Emmitsburg Council of Churches


Church and the Bible

Father John J. Lombardi

Everyone's heard of Leonardo DaVinci, but you have you heard of "The DaVinci Code"? This is a new, bestselling book that resurrects previously condemned views claiming that the Bible was rewritten during the reign of Emperor Constantine in the Roman Empire during the 300's A.D. to further a political agenda of goddess worship stemming from the Gnostic notion that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were actually lovers producing a secret lineage of children that were/are influential in all major world events.

Ever wonder where the Bible came from? .  Have you heard anyone say, "Men wrote the Bible, not God." Ever hear wrong notions about the Bible-the stories of the Flood, the Exodus and even the Resurrection, are myth, not fact. Jesus didn't really multiply the fishes and loaves.   that was a miracle of sharing. What do we, as Catholics, believe? Is our faith shaken when we hear claims such as above?

Understanding the correct history of the Holy Bible and the emphasis placed by the Catholic Church on properly reading and understanding the sacred writings is paramount to understanding the message of God. Some have claimed that the Catholic Church "Lords over scripture as its master," when in fact the Church is a servant to Sacred Scripture. Do these erroneous claims enkindle your desire to seek out the truth and correct the errors attacking our Church and the Holy Scriptures?

As Catholics, we have nothing to fear except our own lack of effort in pursuit of the truth! History, science, nor any other search for knowledge when conducted in an unbiased manner can or will contradict the teaching of the Bible when understood correctly. However, knowing the historical and scientific truths with respect to our faith helps us to follow the greatest commandment. How so? When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he replied, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment." (Matt: 22:37-38) However, how can we love Whom we do not know? For to know God is to love God. Fortunately for us, God revealed Himself to us through His spoken word--Jesus His Son-- and through His written Word--the Holy Bible.

A Brief History of the Bible

A translation of the entire Hebrew Bible from Hebrew into the Greek language was begun between 285 - 246 B.C. The translation was completed between 250 and 125 B.C. and was later called the Septuagint. This is a Latin word for the number 70 (LXX in Roman numerals), which describes the number of Jewish scholars traditionally believed to have undertaken the task. The Septuagint contains 46 books. The Catholic Church, using the authority given it by Jesus Christ (Matt: 16:18), officially approved 46 books of the Septuagint comprising the Old Testament, at the Council of Hippo in 393 A.D. This Council (and another) declared that the canon (rule, or measure) of Scripture includes the 27 books of the New Testament. In 405 A.D. Pope Innocent I approved the 73-book canon and closed the canon of the Christian Bible.

The canon of the Catholic Christian Bible was universally accepted for 1100 years until Martin Luther called it into question in the year 1517. He cited the same concerns of the Jewish Council at Jamnia, namely that there were no Hebrew counterparts to the seven books rejected by that Council. The great biblical scholar St. Jerome shared these concerns; however, he ultimately acceded to the decision of the Catholic Church as authoritative on the canon of Scripture, but Martin Luther sided with Jamnia. Ironically, with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 in caves at Qumran, Israel, ancient Hebrew copies of some of the disputed seven books were discovered. This discovery undermines rejection of some of the seven books based on the fact that there are Hebrew counterparts to the Greek texts. Additionally, some of the books falter against the "written later than the time of Ezra" criterion proposed by the Jewish Council at Jamnia.

St. Augustine said, "For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church." It is ironic that Martin Luther, a once devout Augustinian monk, would not submit to the same authority as did the founder of his order. In his commentary on St John, (Chapter 16) Martin Luther wrote, "We are obliged to yield many things to the Papists (Catholics) that they possess the Word of God which we received from them, otherwise we should have known nothing at all about it." If the Catholic Church gave us the Bible (according the Martin Luther), why change it?

Perhaps the most important validation in addition to the authority of the Catholic Church's proclamation of the 46- book-canon rather than the 39-book-canon is that the Septuagint was the text quoted more than 300 times by the writers of the New Testament (as opposed the to Hebrew version of the same texts.) Bishop Mark A. Pivarunas, CMRI points out, "The Apostles and New Testament writers quoted principally the Septuagint. In fact, of the three hundred and fifty Old Testament quotations found in the New Testament, about three hundred are taken directly from the Septuagint." Proof is commonly demonstrated in word usage. For example, Hebrews 1:6, quotes Deuteronomy 32:43. The New Testament quotation does match the English versions of the Bible translated from the Old Testament texts written in Hebrew, but it does match the English versions of the Bible translated from the Septuagint written in Greek.

We can assume that if the Septuagint was quoted by the writers of the New Testament, it stands to reason that Jesus accepted the 46 books derived from the Septuagint as the inspired word of God. Why? Because it was not until 70 years after the crucifixion that the Jewish Council of Jamnia convened to remove the additional books. If Jesus accepted all 46 books, why shouldn't we?

The Church, Mass, and the Bible

The Catholic Church is often accused of not encouraging the faithful to read the Holy Bible throughout the centuries and even sometimes chained the Bible to the Church pulpit so people could not take it home and read it. Why is this?

After the fall of the civilized world known as the Roman Empire during the late 300's to early 400's, illiteracy rose to an all time high. How could the faith be propagated from generation to generation without literacy? The answer is that the Catholic Church then taught (rather than leave people in ignorance or misery) by word of mouth, pictures, liturgy, artwork and traditions. As for the Bible being chained to the Church, until the advent of the printing press some 1000 years later by Gutenberg, all books were written by hand--a very expensive proposition. The Bible was often stolen and sold. Thus, to avoid theft and allow all who could read the opportunity to do so, the Bible was secured in churches.

The fact is, the Catholic Church has always encouraged reading of the Holy Scripture and its proper interpretation. Some people today are afraid that studying the Bible using modern methods, technology, and thinking will change the meaning and message. To dispel this myth Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Vatican Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, said, "The study of the Bible is, as it were, the soul of theology, as the Second Vatican Council says, borrowing a phrase from Pope Leo XIII (Dei Verbum, 24). This study is never finished; each age must in its own way newly seek to understand the sacred books."

Today, Catholics and all Christians must avoid two extremist pitfalls: fundamentalism (rigidly interpreting the Bible without, past precedent and without a magisterium (Consensus teaching office guided by the Holy Spirit) which brings extra-biblical principles to assist. Thus, some Mormons and others have polygamy (as practiced by Jacob, King David, Solomon, etc.) some Muslims kill adulterers (Leviticus 20:10), because these are in the Bible.

The other extreme, liberalism, which may see the Bible stories as metaphors, subjective reports not having objective events as basis. During the period when secular reasoning without the element of religion, commonly known as the Enlightenment, liberal understanding of the biblical text rendered the mysterious as natural. For example, did Jesus miraculously create the abundance of food from the small quantity of fishes and loaves or was it simply that the people learned to share? We may have even heard this erroneous rationalization preached at a Sunday sermon; however this type of liberal interpretation caters to the thought that rational people will not believe in mysterious or miraculous. Are we unwilling to take Jesus at his word? Or do we rationalize His message to mean something less challenging? Saint Anthony, pray for us that we might find our belief in the mysteries of our life, death, and hopefully resurrection as shown by example in the person of Jesus. Help us to rediscover the life of our Savior!

The essence and eternal truths of the Bible must be contemporized for today's world without compromise, rationalization, or alteration. The job of the Church, Bible scholars, and all laypeople is to update the Bible's meaning for today's world. What does the Bible say about human cloning? Well, nothing, but we do have principles on which to base a negative decision. What does the Bible say divorce, termination of pregnancy, they holiness of right marital relations? Are we searching these answers to our questions with and open heart and open mind and a focus on right understanding? Perhaps most importantly, we should be reading what the saints and the Church have to say on these issues,

In 1994, the Pontifical Biblical Commission wrote a document entitled The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church. The following excerpts (in italics) are quoted from that document, followed by commentary from this priest.

"In principle, the liturgy, and especially the sacramental liturgy, the high point of which is the Eucharistic celebration, brings about the most perfect actualization of the biblical texts, for the liturgy places the proclamation in the midst of the community of believers, gathered around Christ so as to draw near to God. Christ is then "present in his word, because it is he himself who speaks when sacred Scripture is read in the church" ("Sacrosanctum Concilium," 7). Written text thus becomes living word."

During Holy Mass, we read directly from the Holy Bible on four separate occasions: the first reading, the responsorial Psalm, the second reading, and the Gospel. If you attend Mass every day for three years you will have heard the entire Bible read aloud. In fact, the perfect form of prayer acceptable to God (the Mass) draws heavily from the Bible and the institutions of Jesus as described in the Bible. Quoting often from saints and Church documents, Dr. Scott Hahn's book, The Lamb's Supper, discusses this reality in layman's terms and is suggested reading for all. In this book, Dr. Hahn explains the relationship between Holy Mass and the often misinterpreted Book of Revelation (or the Apocalypse). It will become very apparent to the reader that the liturgy of the Mass draws heavily upon the sacred text of the Bible.

"The liturgical reform initiated by the Second Vatican Council sought to provide Catholics with rich sustenance from the Bible. The triple cycle of Sunday readings gives a privileged place to the Gospels, in such a way as to shed light on the mystery of Christ as principle of our salvation. By regularly associating a text of the Old Testament with the text of the Gospel, the cycle often suggests a Scriptural interpretation moving in the direction of typology. But, of course, such is not the only kind of interpretation possible."

Lectio Divine

Briefly Noted

Father Jack Lombardi and our new choir director are looking for talented adults (especially men!) and young adults (high school juniors and seniors) to join our choir in singing at Mass. Now is a good time to join as we prepare for the Advent and Christmas seasons. Won't you give back to God the gift that He has given to you? Call Fr. Jack 301.447.5318, or Paula Tiller 301.824.7698, for more info.  or just come to practice Sunday morning at 10:30!

Oct 5 is Life Chain Sunday: come with family & friends and devote an afternoon of prayer for the sin of abortion-2:15 PM prayer service at St. Joseph's Church, Emmitsburg; 2:30 PM gather at town square for Life Chain. Proclaim that life is sacred!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi