How to Read the Bible

We’ve been blessed in recent times with a better understanding of the bible, thanks to scholarly studies of the last century or so.  Historians, archeologists, linguists are giving us a clearer picture of these ancient books, their meaning, when they were written, their historical context. New discoveries, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, have increased our knowledge of this book, which is really a library of Christian spirituality.

We know more about the scriptures today than we’ve known for centuries. Our new knowledge helps us to know Jesus Christ better, of course, so shouldn’t we be more acquainted with these readings? Unfortunately, Catholics are still slow to go to the bible for their spiritual nourishment, even though our liturgies have been enriched by readings from scripture since the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

What bible should you read? Visit a book store like Barnes and Noble, go to the section where they’re selling bibles and you’ll find a bewildering collection of editions available today, going back to the old King James version.

The King James Bible is still the most popular bible read in the English-speaking world. For some fundamentalists it’s the only “Word of God.” But the King James version, for all its historical and literary qualities, has serious drawbacks. Since the time it was published in 1611, scores of ancient versions of the bible have been found, earlier than those on which this translation was based, and significant progress in biblical studies has also been made.

Because of this, many new translations of the bible have been published which take advantage of the new biblical resources. There are at least 30 new translations on the market today. In 1989, the New Revised Standard Version, a revision of the highly regarded Revised Standard Version, was published enlisting scholars from the major Christian denominations and authorized by these denominations. A fine translation.

In March 2011, a revised edition of The New American Bible (NABRE) was published. It’s a bible sponsored by the Catholic Church and it provides the readings found in its liturgies.  The last edition published 20 years ago was revised to take account of the new resources.

I like this bible myself for a number of reasons. For one, it’s available online free, so it’s always available if you have a computer, iPad, or iPhone. I appreciate especially the notes and introductory material, which may not be found in other versions of the bible. They are concise, clear and based on the latest scholarly research.

Another bible to take a look at is The Jerusalem Bible.

Catholics and other mainstream Christians hear the scriptures regularly from the lectionary during worship. The lectionary breaks down the books of the bible into parts, but there’s one drawback to reading the bible this way, I believe. We can read these parts in isolation, without enriching our reading with a fuller, more complete view that comes from reading the entire gospel or epistle, or prophet.

This month’s Sunday gospels from the 6th chapter of John, which begins with the miracle of the loaves and the fish, is an example. On the following Sundays we read sections of Jesus’ dialogue with the crowd, which is triggered by this powerful sign. Separated as they are from this key event, the readings can become disconnected from miracle and the overall themes that surround it.

There’s something to reading  from the bible itself, rather than settling for selections in the lectionary.

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