Friday, June 3, 2011

RKIA's Guide to Reading the Bible... part 2


Many years ago my mother, one of the finest, kindest and wisest people I have ever known, decided to read the Bible cover to cover. Somewhere around the story of Lot and his daughters, she called me and asked, “Have you any idea what’s in this book!?!!”

Never try to read the bible cover to cover. If you do, it will make less sense than before you started the project. That’s because the Bible isn’t a book. It’s a library. How often have you heard people say that the Bible isn’t true? To say the Bible isn’t true is like walking into the lobby of a library and shouting, “This library is wrong!” Which section is wrong? The history section? The science section? The poetry section? The Bible is a library of 73 books - only 66 if you’re a Protestant. It contains poetry, ancient history, law, prophecy, and much, much more! If you go into the poetry section of a library and say that this isn’t very good science, you would be right, but by the same token if you go into the science section you wouldn’t expect much poetry. Therein lies the problem with treating the Bible like a book. If you think it is somehow a continuous narrative whose purpose is primarily historical you are going to be very confused.

In the Books of the Bible, the Holy Spirit tells us the truth about God and the way He has related to humanity over a 2000-year period from about 2000 BC to about 65AD. How can you tell what’s poetry and what’s history and what’s prophecy? Simple. Listen to those that God has made authoritative teachers, namely the apostles. But the Apostles are dead, aren’t they? Some are, some aren’t.

First of all what do we mean by “apostle?” If you think apostles are those twelve guys who followed Jesus around you are only partly right. Luke 6:13 “When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles”. The noun apostle” is used just short of a hundred times in the new Testament. It has a verb form also that is used almost 200 times. (PAY ATTENTION! GRAMMAR IS IMPORTANT, YOU MIND-NUMBED COUCH POTATO!)

The noun in Greek is “apostolos,” which means missionary or delegate, someone who is sent out with authority to represent the sender) the verb is “apostello” which means “I delegate,” “I send out.” The phrase “twelve apostles” appears only a few times. More commonly, one sees the phrase “the twelve.” Whenever you see the word “twelve” in the Bible you can bet your lunch money that it refers to government. The Bible has lots of numbers that repeat and have a special meaning, 3 (Divinity or heavenly perfection), 7 (covenant), 12 (government), 40 (testing) and so on.

That Jesus named twelve special disciples (a word which itself means “students”) shows He intended to form a government for His followers. The first Christians insisted that Jesus had commanded His followers to continue the government that He Himself had established. In about 80AD,Clement of Rome who had most probably known Peter and Paul said, “Through countryside and city (the apostles) preached, and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers."

Nor was this a novelty, for bishops and deacons had been written about a long time earlier...
Our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry. (St. Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians)

A century later, Irenaeus was the bishop of Lyon in France. He was a Greek who had been taught by Polycarp, who himself had been a disciple of John the Evangelist, one of the twelve. He wrote around 180 AD what he had learned from the students of the first apostles themselves.
It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known to us throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors down to our own times, men who neither knew nor taught anything like what these heretics rave about....Since, however, it would be tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; (we do this, I say,) by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul; as also (by pointing out) the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those (faithful men) who exist everywhere. (Against Heresies )

Okay, this is unpleasant. But it seems that the first Christians believed in what we now call apostolic succession. In other words, when someone comes up and says the end of the world is next Saturday, we have the perfect right, nay, we have the duty, to ask them where they got the authority to say that. They will answer, “From the Bible. I added up all the dates and the genealogies and this is surely the exact day!!!” “Well,” you might counter, “have you read the numbers in the poetic books, or just the historical books or just the prophetic books? Or have you just mixed them up like a stew of leftovers in a cheap restaurant?”

How can one tell what is poetry, or prophesy or history? That is precisely my point! You can’t, unless you have an unbroken connection to the people who first chose those books to be part of the library that we call the Bible. Just because you read it and it seems to mean something perfectly clear to you, doesn’t mean you’ve gotten it right. If you take it on yourself to interpret the books, or worse, leave it to some loon with a Swiss bank account and a mail order doctorate to do the interpreting, you are going to end up selling all your stuff, writing a big check to some weirdo who tells you to climb a hill and wait for the Lord who is surely going to show up next Saturday at 6PM. It’s certainly going to happen because he read it in the Bible.

We’ve been reading the Bible very carefully for two thousand years, guided by the delegates (apostles) who received their delegation from those whom the Lord Himself delegated, not some self appointed loon. It’s a free country. You can say to the Lord that you don’t care if He established legitimate authority in the Church. You’re going to read and interpret the Bible the way you want to. Who cares what that old Bavarian in the Vatican says? The first Christians certainly seemed to. I just hope you get a hill with a nice view, because you’re probably going to be there for a long time.

So here are principles 2 and 3

2) THE BIBLE IS NOT A BOOK. IT’S A LIBRARY.(I stole that idea from Fr. Bob Barron)


Next Week 14+14+14 EQUALS HOW MUCH? (The Bible is not a self interpreting book. It isn’t a book at all! Haven’t you been paying attention?


  1. Once again, thank you for another dose of insight. I'll be keeping Principle #2 in mind whenever I encounter one of the uninitiated.

    (This makes me think of the time a co-worker told me that there wasn't anything fictional in the Bible. My response: "What about the Parables?")