Friday, August 26, 2016 - Updated: 7:00 am
QUESTION: Our parish is considering starting a Bible study group. What are things to be considered, included and avoided?
ANSWER: If a Catholic parish sponsors a Bible study group, it should be recognizably Catholic. What that means is that what people hear there should be consistent with what the Catholic Church believes and teaches about divine revelation and the Scriptures. Frankly, too many Bible study groups admit any opinion as if it were the truth, and some people walk away thinking that this is what the church teaches.
One way to ensure that this takes place is to find someone to lead who is committed to that reality. That person should have a background in Scripture study from the Catholic perspective. It should also be stated at the beginning that this is a Bible study group from the Catholic perspective. Questions should always be welcome, but answers should be given and clarifications should be made when opinions vary from what the Catholic Church teaches.
For example, the Catholic Church includes more biblical books in the Old Testament than do most Protestant communities. A parish Bible study group should know that and use Bibles that are consistent with that (specifically using the New American Bible or New Jerusalem Bible). This is especially true because the people will be familiar with the passages as they are read in the liturgy and because the footnotes and introductions are so helpful.
Even more importantly, the church has a particular approach to the Bible that should be clearly explained and appreciated by those in a parish study group. This teaching may be found especially in the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation.
The church views the Bible within a specific context. The author, time, place, audience and style of each biblical book is extremely important and must be considered carefully. “Biblical criticism,” encompassing such things as textual, literary and historical aspects, are all legitimate approaches, but they should be balanced by what the church has consistently taught over the centuries.
These and so many other “tools” of Bible study are so often overlooked in efforts “to get right to the Bible itself.” When they are overlooked one may well be left with a roomful of people reading the same text, each with his or her own filters, blinders or perceptions.
Bible study, like any group effort, needs good leadership. A director is not a dictator but one who is responsible to ensure that the goals of the group are clearly articulated and followed. While that task may be shared by various members of a group, all must be in agreement about the purpose of the group and its dynamics.
Someone once said that we never actually “master” the Scriptures; the goal is that we allow them to master us. When one speaks at a Bible study it should be after having read God’s word over and over and allowed it to touch and challenge our lives.
Finally, Bible study implies that one will not attempt to “run through” the entire Bible but have each word of sacred Scripture “run through” our lives.
Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.