You Asked. . . Questions About the Bible

We invited families to give us their questions about the Bible, and promised to answer one or two at each Family Program.  We’ll add the questions and St. Anthony on the Lake Bible Questionsanswers here as the year goes along!

  1. Who wrote the Bible? 
    • As Catholics, we believe that God is the real author of the Bible, but that God worked through humans to write it.  As it says in the Catechism, “God is the author of Sacred Scripture because he inspired its human authors; he acts in them and by means of them.” (CCC 136)
    • The Catechism also reminds us that the Spirit also is at work in the interpretation of Scripture.  Therefore, it is always good to pray for God’s inspiration before you read the Bible.
  2. Why is the Bible so long?
    • The Bible is so long because it is more than just one book, it is really many books.  In addition, most Bibles contain additional resources; commentaries, footnotes, and cross references.
    • The Bibles we are using for Family Program contain many pages of activities, maps, references, side notes, and vocabulary notes; all designed for families. 
  3. What does the word Bible mean?
    • The word Bible is of Greek origin meaning books or library. Unlike a public library, housing a collection of random books this is a collection of seventy-three books that reflect the history and the relationship between God and God’s people.
  4. Why is the Bible split into different books?
    • The Bible is not split into different books, but rather, different books were gathered together into one collection.  There were many books, or writings, written over many years, by different people who were all inspired by God.
  5. Why is the Bible divided the way it is?
    • The two main divisions of the Bible are the Old Testament and the New Testament.  The Old Testament includes writings from the Jewish Holy Books, and all come from the time before Jesus was born.  Jesus Christ is the center of all the New Testament writings; his life, his teachings, his death and Resurrection.
    • There are four recognized divisions within the Old Testament: the Pentateuch, the Historical Books, the Wisdom and Poetry Books and the Prophets.
    • The New Testament can be divided into four sections: The Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, the Letters, and Revelation.  According to the Catechism, “The Gospels are the heart of all the Scriptures because they are our principal source for the life and teaching of the Incarnate Word, our Savior.”  (CCC 125)
  6. What is the Old Testament and the New Testament?
    • The word “testament” means “covenant.” A covenant is a sacred agreement, where both people make a promise, a mutual commitment.
    • The Old Testament is filled with stories about the first promises, or covenants, God made with people. Here are some of the important covenants of the Old Testament: the covenant with Adam and Eve, the covenant with Noah, the covenant with Abraham and Sarah, the covenant with Moses and all the people of Israel, the covenant with David.
    • The New Testament is all about Jesus and his first followers, because Jesus completes all the promises. Jesus is the new and eternal covenant.
    • The concept of covenant can give you a key to understanding the timeline of the Bible.
  7. Should the Bible be taken literally?
    • Yes and No. Someone once said, “Everything in the Bible is true, and some of it actually happened.” 
    • Everything in the Bible is inspired by God, to teach us the truth needed for our salvation.
    • The books of the Bible are written in different literary forms such as poems, letters, historical narratives, and proverbs. Some types of writing are not meant to be taken literally.
    • See the Vatican II document called “Dei Verbum” for a more in-depth answer.  Another helpful resource is Section F of the document The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church,” which was written by a commission of Pope John Paul II in 1993.
  8. What is the overall meaning of the Bible?
    • One could say the overall meaning of the Bible is that God loves us, and wants us to love God and one another.
    • According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “The Bible is the story of God’s relationship with the people he has called to himself. In the Bible, God teaches us the truths that we need for the sake of our salvation.”
  9. Why does the Bible exist?  What is the purpose of the Bible?
    • The Bible exists so that we can know God; it is one of the best ways that we can come to know God.  The Catechism tells us that God wants us to know Him, and that God has chosen to reveal Himself to us in the Sacred Scripture.
    • The ultimate revelation of God is in the person of Jesus Christ, and we come to know Jesus Christ through the Bible as well.
  10. What is the best way to approach the Bible? What is a good place to start?  How do we best use the Bible?   How do I get more comfortable with the Bible?  What is the easiest way to read it?
    • There were many families that asked similar questions, so we have grouped all these together. There are several possible answers to these questions but a good answer for many of these is simply to start reading the Bible.  Having a program of some sort to help you start is also helpful.  Here are two possible programs for beginning to read the Bible.  The One Percent Challenge, developed by Evangelical Catholic in connection with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, is great for adults and teens, and we suggest our own Family Challenge for families of all ages. 
  11. Why are there different translations of the Bible?
    • This is a multi-part answer; because it is a very good question and the answer is complicated. We’ll give you some basic, simple reasons and places to go for more nuanced answers.  First, one reason for different Bible translation is that the Bible was not written in English! Whenever we translate something from one language to another we run into difficulty because some words do not have a matching word in the other language.  There are two general ways to translate from one language to another; word for word and meaning for meaning.  Some Bible translations, like the Good News and the Living Bible, are meaning for meaning translations.  Some Bible translations are closer to a word for word translation – examples of this are the New Revised Standard Version and the New American Bible, Revised edition. 
    • A second reason for different translations is that the oldest copies we have of Scripture are written in languages other than the language of the original speakers. The Bible was translated from Hebrew, Greek & Aramaic into Latin back in the late 4th century (about 382AD) and that is the version that was originally used for all our English translations.  More recently, the Bible has been translated directly to English from the Hebrew, Greek & Aramaic.
    • A third reason for the different translations is that archaeological research continues, so we have more copies of older manuscripts; both Scripture and other writings such as letters or homilies where Scripture was quoted. In addition, we continue to grow in our understanding of the language of the time when the Bible was written.  These haven’t caused major changes to the Bible but have allowed those who do the translations to fine-tune their work.
    • I like to read the same Bible passage from a few different translations, and then reflect on it, as a way of praying with the Bible. To go deeper into this question see this article on English Translations of the Bible by Felix Just, S.J., and the USCCB publication “Do Translations Matter?”