The Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study http://biblestudyforcatholics.com 73 Books. One Story. Your Story. Sat, 25 Apr 2015 04:00:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 St. Mark’s Action-packed Gospel http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/st-marks-action-adventure-gospel/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=st-marks-action-adventure-gospel http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/st-marks-action-adventure-gospel/#comments Sat, 25 Apr 2015 04:00:31 +0000 http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/?p=5763 As we celebrate the life of St. Mark, it’s appropriate we reflect on his greatest gift to us – the Gospel of Mark.  Though it’s the shortest of the four Gospels, it is no less rich, complex and powerful.

Imagine you are sound asleep and dreaming, when suddenly your bedroom door bursts open, and someone shining a bright light in your face, shouts “WAKE UP! Get up!! You’re going to be late!!!” That’s what the opening of the Gospel of Mark is like.  There is no infancy narrative, no genealogy or prologue, but simply a fiery prophet shouting in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord!”

388px-Emmanuel_Tzanes_-_St._Mark_the_Evangelist_-_1657

And if you want to be prepared for this Gospel, you better put on your spiritual running shoes if you hope to keep up with Jesus because he is a man on the move.

There are a million things we could say about this Gospel, but let me share a simple structure for following the movement of the Gospel – Mark’s unique shape and style for telling us the Story of Jesus and a key metaphor for understanding his portrayal of our Lord.

The Saving Shape of the Gospel of Mark

  1. Wilderness (1:1-15)
  2. Galilee (1:16-8:21)

     The Way of Discipleship (8:22-11:11)

  1. Jerusalem (11:12-14:52)
  2. Tomb (14:53-16:8)

This structure is called a chaism, a literary pattern where the themes or terms in the first part of a text are reversed and repeated in the second.

The lifeless Judean wilderness where John is preaching is mirrored at the end of the Gospel by Christ’s passion, death and entombment.  Next, the focus turns to Jesus’s time in specific geographic areas (Galilee and surrounding Jerusalem).  At the center of the chaism (8:22-11:11) is the Gospel’s heart or central message: the way of discipleship.  It answers the questions, “What does it look like to truly follow Jesus?  What are the costs, challenges, and consequences of being identified with our Lord?”

The key metaphor for Mark: Jesus the Action Hero

As I said in the introduction, Mark portrays Jesus as a man on the move.  This is a Gospel of action and Jesus is an ultimate action hero.  “I’ll be back!” is credited to Arnold Schwarzenegger, but Jesus was the first to make that claim (Mark 8:31).  Our Lord is purposeful, determined, and moves with a sense of urgency.  Jesus is like an impatient lover rushing to his Passion.  One of the ways Mark communicates this is his use of the Greek term euthus, which is translated in English as “immediately.”  It’s used over forty times in Mark (for some perspective, it’s only used three times in John and Luke).  In fact, “immediately” is used twelve times just in chapter one.

He’s not just on the move, he is moving with power and authority. The terms, power and authority are used nearly twenty times in Mark.  His first miracle demonstrates his power over demons (1:21-28).  Whether it’s demons, death, disease, defilement, defective bodies, or destructive storms – all submit to his power. In rapid fire succession, especially in the opening seven chapters, Christ is taking back all the ground lost to the powers of darkness.  In evocative language, he is breaking into our world and “binding the strong man” (Mark 3:27, Catechism, No. 539).

But it’s on the Cross that we see Jesus as the definitive action hero. Here he not only saved a few, but the whole world from sin and death.  Here he definitely conquered the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4).

And that ties back to Mark’s structure: the way of discipleship is the way of the Cross (Mark 8:22-11:11).  To take up our Cross and follow the Lord is to crucify the old selfish ways of thinking, speaking and acting.  It is modeling for the world the message of God’s divine love: to make a full, free, faithful and fruitful gift of ourselves.  As Anthony Bloom says, true “love is difficult. Christ was crucified because he taught a kind of love which is a terror for men, a love which demands total surrender: it spells death.”

But our spiritual death in Christ leads to true life, to joy, freedom and restoration, what the gospel truly means, “Good News!”

 

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Hanging Out with God in Scripture http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/hanging-god-scripture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hanging-god-scripture http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/hanging-god-scripture/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 20:57:25 +0000 http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/?p=5756 Chrissie shut her Bible with frustration.  “I get nothing out of this!  How can you read it so much?!”

I had told her that the Bible was like a love letter to her from God; that if she read it, she’d hear him speaking to her heart and life.  Five days and who knows how many chapters later, Chrissie had still heard nothing.

Maybe you can relate.  You set aside time, get out your Bible, curl up with some coffee, start reading and . . . nothing.  It doesn’t make sense, or you can’t relate, or it’s just too much work.  You put the Bible down and decide it’s a better use of your time to go to Mass or to read someone else’s reflections.

Hanging out with God in Scripture

“How do the Protestants do it?” Chrissie asked.  “Do they have some special Scripture line to heaven?”

I don’t think so, but that got me thinking.   Before I became Catholic, the Bible was my sacrament, my Eucharist.  It was where I found the presence of God.  I couldn’t choose to go to Mass or adoration if I got bored reading the Bible, I had to read harder.  I got frustrated and disappointed as often as anyone, but it never occurred to me to stop.  I wanted a relationship with God and with his Son.  So I did what anyone does who wants a relationship with someone else:  I hung out where I knew him to be.

It helps to think about the Bible as a place and not a book.  The Church tells us that

in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life.  (Dei Verbum, 21.  Emphasis mine.)

God comes down from heaven to meet us in the Bible!  When I read that, I imagine myself on a bench in my garden, reading my Bible, with God right beside me.

Sometimes he talks.  Sometimes it’s a message right to me!  Other times, it’s more about him: things he’s done, stories about his family, truths that I should know.  Some things are interesting, some things profound – and some things are just things.  Bits and pieces I hardly notice, but that make my knowing richer.

Sometimes I talk.  I might thank him for what I read, talk about the way it touches me.  Or tell him I don’t get it.  If I can’t find him right away, I’ll look harder.  I’ll ask him to show me what he has for me that day.

Sometimes, we just sit there.  It might be in blissful contemplation of the exchange we just had, but more often we just hang out.  His words might not strike me, or I have nothing to say.  That’s OK.  Like I can with my friends, we can sit there in quiet.  Both on the bench, just being together.

Does God speak to me?  Yes.  Not always directly, not always with words I feel in my heart, and not every time I pick up his Word.  But the Bible’s not a tool that does what I want when I want it to.  It’s a place I meet God and get to know him.  The more I read, the better I know him and the more I recognize his voice.  He will speak to me throughout the day, through the Scripture that’s been written in my heart.

If you’re learning to spend time in Scripture, remember these “three P’s” of fruitful Bible reading:

1.  Prayer

Always pray first “so that God and man may talk together; for ‘we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying’” (Dei Verbum, 25).

2.  Persistence

Build a habit of Bible reading. Don’t expect instant or constant gratification. (Think of it as daily bread, not daily dessert!) Like food, it nourishes when you don’t feel it.  Search diligently and trust God to meet you.

3.  Patience

God wants to speak to you!  He gave you his word.  Don’t bite off more than you can chew.  Take it slow and savor what you read.  Learn to listen and wait for his “still, small voice.”

May God meet you in his Word with love!

 

© 2015 Sarah Christmyer – www.ComeIntotheWord.com.

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Scripture & Tradition: The Story & the Life http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/bible-story-life-christ/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bible-story-life-christ http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/bible-story-life-christ/#comments Sun, 19 Apr 2015 18:00:24 +0000 http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/?p=5731 The Bible. For some, the very words evoke feelings of warmth and wisdom, but for many Catholics today, the Bible can be chronologically confusing and its meaning hard to grasp. How tragic this is in light of the fact that as Pope Leo XIII said, the “Scripture is a Letter written by our Heavenly Father” to his children for the purpose of revealing Himself to them. Those who come to the Holy Bible for the first time could expect to open at the beginning of Genesis and read on through to Revelation with the same ease and excitement as reading the novel Gone With The Wind. But it doesn’t take the novice long to figure out that the Bible doesn’t read like a popular novel. In fact, it isn’t put together as a sequential narrative; rather the books are grouped by literary types. Consequently, the once excited inquirer puts the untapped treasure back down on the coffee table with a sigh of “what’s the use?”

An important challenge facing the reader is to find and understand the basic story line of salvation history within the Bible’s pages. We are not talking at this stage about understanding detail, rather grasping the scope of the divine story, the “big picture.” The Bible, although made up of many stories, contains a single story. In a nutshell, it is about God and His relationship with mankind, the most complex of His creation and the true object of His love and affection. It is mankind that would betray God, and yet God in turn would die for.

Bible and Key

Starting with the first chapters of Genesis on through the book of Revelation, God gradually reveals His plan to re-establish the broken relationship between Himself and His treasured creation. It is only in God’s revealed plan that mankind once again finds its intended purpose for being “because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #27).

It is important for the modern Catholic to understand that, although the Bible is a mystery on one level, it is also a book of history. There should be no misunderstanding — it is true history as opposed to cleverly devised tales. Pope Paul VI said in Directorium Catechisticum Generale, “the history of salvation is being accomplished in the midst of the history of the world.” The Bible gives a wide range of examples of how through word and deed God has entered the life of His people.

The difficulty facing Bible readers is how to make this personal yet ancient story of salvation history come alive. They must discover the critical plot and, through the guidance of the Church, understand its meaning in order to make it their own story.

Dei Verbum emphasizes the importance of using contemporary literary form to search out the meaning of the Sacred Scriptures. “To search out the intention of the sacred writers, attention should be given, among other things, to ‘literary forms.’ For truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of discourse. The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture” (DV 12).

The first step to understanding the Bible chronologically as a story is to identify which of the seventy-three books are of historical nature. The term “historical” refers simply to those books that keep the story moving from one event to another. Not all books in the Bible are historical accounts, some are poetic in nature, wisdom literature and some prophetic. The historical books provide us with continuity, or give us an ordered account of connected events from Genesis to Revelation. This is called the narrative approach and was common among early Church Fathers such as St. Ambrose and St. Augustine.

There are twelve historical books in the Old Testament and, for the sake of simplicity; two historical books in the New Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 Maccabees, Luke and Acts). These books provide the narrative structure on which all the other books hang.

Flowing from the written word, the Catechism moves into the second pillar, the sacraments and liturgy. What are the sacraments and liturgy in relation to the written word? The sacraments and liturgy provide us with the means of entering the story declared in the Creed, the first pillar.

“From the time of the apostles, becoming a Christian has been accompanied by a journey and initiation in several stages” (CCC 1229). Certain essential elements will always have to be present: proclamation of the Word, acceptance of the Gospel entailing conversion, profession of faith, and Baptism itself. Throughout this faith journey the sacraments provide direct encounters with Christ, resulting in the grace of God, which is the life of the Trinity. The new believer travels through initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist) and participates in the sacraments of healing (Penance and Anointing of the Sick), and service (Holy Orders and Marriage).

Life in Christ

Once the new believer is initiated into the story (Creed) through the sacraments they move into life in Christ, the third pillar of the Catechism. What is life in Christ in relation to the Creed, Liturgy and Sacraments? Life in Christ is our personal and communal script on how to live. Because the Church is the body of Christ, we live the life of Christ in the world. In this pillar we learn about the moral life, virtues, sin and our relationship with society. With the Ten Commandments as a backdrop we learn how to conduct ourselves along the journey of faith.

Prayer, which makes up the fourth pillar of the Catechism, provides us with the guidelines to fortify a close personal relationship with God. There are several wellsprings where Christ awaits us to enable us to drink deeply of the Holy Spirit; the Word of God, the Liturgy and the theological virtues. Through prayer we can drink more deeply from the Word of God and participate more fully in the sacramental life. It is in prayer that our bond with God grows deeper and with an understanding of the three previous pillars, our understanding of revelation becomes more profound.

Dei Verbum provides wonderful guidelines to synthesize the faith and the Catechism is the most fruitful example of this. As mentioned at the beginning, from the outside the Church can seem complicated and big. But with the guidance of magisterial documents, such as Dei Verbum, the believer is led into a life of fruitful study and living.

This is the second installment in the Scripture & Tradition series. 

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Scripture & Tradition: Bringing Harmony http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/bringing-harmony-scripture-tradition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bringing-harmony-scripture-tradition http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/bringing-harmony-scripture-tradition/#comments Sat, 18 Apr 2015 18:00:42 +0000 http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/?p=5727 The perception from the outside is that the Catholic Church is big. I remember those first weeks when my interest in the Church was stimulated by the writings of Pope John Paul II. Before understanding the details of doctrine, liturgy and Church structure, I was in need of something that would tie together the whole faith. I desperately wanted to see the big picture of Catholicism. Once I began to read the documents of Vatican II I realized that I had come face to face with a gold mine in terms of explaining how all things Catholic fit together. Then, reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church further organized and synthesized all the various themes of Catholicism into a structure that I could understand and put into practice in my daily life.

I discovered something important in those early months of seeking God in the Catholic Church. God wants to fully reveal Himself to us, He wants us to fully participate in His family and has passed on a structure and methodology that not only reveals Him, but also can be maintained throughout the centuries. Truth is not always simple; in fact it can be hard sometimes. This is why it is important for young Christians to work with key foundational Church documents such as the Bible, The Catechism and the writings of Vatican II.

Today, many non-Catholic Christians understand divine revelation as a personal exercise, where the individual mines the depths of the sacred text with the help of the Holy Spirit. This simplistic approach seems easy, personal and liberating, but in reality sola scriptura complicates the search for truth and leaves the individual with a lack of certitude. The thought of interpreting the most profound book on earth, with no guidance other than a hope that God is somehow leading the reader into a more profound understanding of the world, God and self, borders on spiritual guessing. If God, who created the complexities of the universe, chose to reveal Himself, wouldn’t he reveal Himself with the same attention to order and detail that went into creation itself? Wouldn’t there be order and guidelines?

One document that every Christian should be acquainted with is The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum. Dei Verbum is the concise articulation of how we receive divine revelation and grow in our understanding of it. The document reveals the liberating truth that revelation is not contained in Scripture alone, but is progressive and involves both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Starting with the Old Testament, God entrusted Himself to a people and began to manifest Himself through word and deed. The Old Testament, while written for our instruction, prepared God’s people for the coming of Jesus Christ. In the New Testament Christ established the kingdom of God on earth and manifested His Father and Himself again by deeds and words. There is a relationship between the two testaments in that both Testaments are arranged in such a way that “the New Testament is hidden in the Old and the Old is made manifest in the New.”

This progression continues after Jesus commissioned the Apostles to preach to all men the gospel. The Apostles faithfully fulfilled this commission and “handed on what they had received from the lips of Christ, from living with Him, and from what he did, or what they had learned through the prompting of the Holy Spirit”(DV 7). In “order to keep the gospel forever whole, the Apostles left bishops as their successors, ‘handing over’ to them the authority to teach in their own place.”

What was it that was handed on by the Apostles to the succeeding generations? Dei Verbum tells us “what was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the people of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes (DV 8).” This is what constitutes Sacred Tradition.

Part of this Sacred Tradition includes the teaching role of the Magisterium of the Church, the Bishops in union with the Pope. The task of “authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church” (DV 10). The Magisterium not only hands on the objective truth of the faith but also provides methods of study that have been carried on for centuries. One point that is important to remember is stated in Dei Verbum 12, which states “The living tradition of the whole Church must be taken into account along with the harmony which exists between elements of the faith.”

The best example of this harmony, which exists between the elements of the faith, is seen in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Within the structure of the Catechism there is a harmony between the elements of the faith with sacred theology resting on “the written word of God, together with sacred tradition, as its primary and perpetual foundation” (DV 24). To go even deeper, “the sacred page is, as it were, the soul of sacred theology” (DV 24).

We see in the structure of the Catechism how the written word of God is the starting point to harmonize each key element of the deposit of faith. To the novice the Catechism certainly is an impressive display of the basics of the Catholic faith, but too often the very teaching structure of the Catechism is lost. The Catechism is divided into four pillars, organizing the faith into meaningful divisions: The Creed, Sacraments & Liturgy, Life in Christ and Prayer.

The first pillar of the Catechism is the Creed. The Creed is the Church’s profession of faith. St. Augustine recognized that new believers could not handle the whole of salvation history so he gave them the creed as the starting point. The Creed is a distillation of salvation history and was the “rule of faith,” for the early believers. It was through the lens of the creed that the early believers began to see and digest the wonderful revelation contained in Sacred Scripture. The Creed could be thought of as salvation history, from Genesis to Revelation, in a tightly wound form. This true story of the world is critical to understand because there is a relationship, indeed a harmony between it and the elements of the Catholic faith. This is why “the Church forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ” (CCC 133). This relationship between the written word of God and knowledge of the Christ is seen in the relationship between the first and third pillars of the Catechism. This will be discussed in the third and final part of this series. Be sure to look for it tomorrow.

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Scripture & Tradition: From Jewish Roots http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/scripture-tradition-part-jewish-roots/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=scripture-tradition-part-jewish-roots http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/scripture-tradition-part-jewish-roots/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 16:40:54 +0000 http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/?p=5722 It is an all too common occurrence, Catholics leaving the Church because one well-intended Bible believing Christian challenged their faith by asking one question, “Where is that in the Bible?” Suddenly, the scope of truth has been confined to a single book, the Bible, without either party realizing that they have bought into a collection of unexamined presuppositions. Namely:

1) The Bible alone is the means of divine revelation

2) The Bible-alone tradition is the way the Church has received revelation from the beginning, and…

3) The individual Christian is the authoritative interpreter of the Bible.

And without even the slightest hint of defense or a discerning pause the unsuspecting Catholic allows his friend’s presuppositions to go unchecked and in many cases adopts them as his own. After all, one would think, if someone can quote that much Scripture, he must know what he is talking about.

Brooklyn_Museum_-_He_Who_is_of_God_Hears_the_Word_of_God_(Celui_de_Dieu_entend_la_parole_de_Dieu)_-_James_Tissot

“Catholicism is not a ‘religion of the book,’ rather, it is a religion of the ‘Word’ of God.”

But are the above presuppositions true? Perhaps the greatest difference between Catholics and Protestants is the way the two groups view the means of receiving divine revelation. For most Protestants, the only reliable source of divine revelation is the Bible. This tradition of relying on the Bible as the sole means of receiving God’s revelation, however, is fairly recent as it was only introduced in the 16th century Protestant Reformation. Catholicism on the other hand, is not a “religion of the book,” rather, it is the religion of the “Word” of God (Catechism of the Catholic Church 108). The Church teaches that both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God (DV 10). The Gospel (The Good News) of Jesus Christ is the source of all saving truth and moral discipline, and as such it must be conveyed to all generations. Therefore, Jesus commanded His apostles to preach the Gospel.

In the apostolic preaching, the Gospel was handed on in two ways: – orally “by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received – whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit,” – in writing “by those apostles and other men associated with the apostles who, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation to writing” (CCC 76).

Both means of the apostolic message, Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, are bound closely together and communicate one with the other. They both flow from the same divine source, and share a common goal; to make present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ (CCC 80). I like the way Mark Shea put it in his book By What Authority?: An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition. He describes the relationship between Scripture and Tradition as one – but not the same. “They were the hydrogen and oxygen that fused to form living water. They were the words and the tune of a single song. They were two sides of the same apostolic coin” (p. 120).

But the question arises, how can the full deposit of faith remain intact and free from the fallibility of an individual’s whim? This is particularly important since there was no formal New Testament to guide the Church until 393 A.D. Who would preserve and teach with authority the Gospel as it spread into various cultures and continents? To safeguard the Gospel, the apostles appointed bishops as their successors, giving them “their own position of teaching authority” (CCC 77). In the process of apostolic succession we see the continuation of Jesus’ delegated authority down through the ages.

For it was Jesus who said to Peter, the first pope, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19). And to His apostles Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples… teaching them to observe all that I command you” (Matt. 28:18-20) and “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me” (Matt. 10:40).

This idea of a living, continuing authoritative presence did not begin with the Catholic Church. In the Old Testament we see an ongoing authority in the Mosaic priesthood as well as the Royal dynasty of David and the Sanhedrin established just prior to Jesus birth.

Today, the bishops around the world in union with the bishop of Rome, the pope, constitute the teaching authority of the Church. This authoratative body is often referred to as the Magisterium. The Magisterium, Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are so closely “linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others” (DV 10).

This is the living Tradition of the Church. In defining what apostolic Tradition is we must first distinguish between social traditions, traditions of the Church and THE TRADITION. When the Church speaks of apostolic Tradition, she is not speaking of it in the sense that people traditionally open their gifts on Christmas Eve as opposed to Christmas day. Frankly, this is your own business and can be modified upon Grandmother’s approval. Nor is apostolic Tradition the numerous theological, disciplinary, liturgical or devotional traditions developed in the local churches over the years. These traditions, (often referred to as “small t” traditions) can be modified or entirely dropped under the guidance of the Magisterium.

The apostolic Tradition, however, comes from the apostles as they received it from Jesus’ teaching, from His example, and from what the Holy Spirit revealed to them. It is this apostolic Tradition that is referred to when the Church speaks of Scripture and Tradition making up the deposit of faith. This apostolic Tradition must be preserved and taught by the Church.

Jesus’ criticism of the Scribes and Pharisees in Mark 7:13, “that you have invalidated the word of God by your tradition,” is not a blanket condemnation of all tradition, but rather, a correction regarding a tradition of man (Corban) that had choked the power of the Word of God. According to this tradition, a son could declare that what he had intended to give his parents was considered “Corban,” i.e., a gift devoted to God. Once a gift was considered “Corban” it could no longer be designated for the care of their parents. Wouldn’t you condemn a tradition like that? Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out that the “traditions were criticized in order that genuine tradition might be revealed” (Principles of Catholic Theology, p. 95).

It comes as a big surprise to some to realize that at no time in the history of the people of God was the concept of the Word of God bound only to the written page. From the beginning of the Bible until Moses (1400 BC), oral tradition was the only means of passing on the words of God. And from Moses on through to the Catholic Church it was clearly understood by all in God’s covenant family (Israel) that the Word of God was to be understood in terms of both oral and written Tradition. It was also understood by Jesus and the early Church that the Word of God was transmitted by two means: orally and in written form. Paul clearly understood this to be true as we see in his exhortation to Timothy: “hold to traditions which you have learned, whether by word or by our letter” (2 Thess. 2:14).

Cardinal Ratzinger noted that “Jesus did not present his message as something totally new, as the end of all that preceded it. He was and remained a Jew; that is, he linked his message to the tradition of believing Israel” (Ibid p. 95). This dual meaning of receiving the Word of God in oral and written form is part of the tradition of Israel. Just weeks after the children of Israel were freed from Egypt, they settled for one year at the base of Mt. Sinai. It was there on Mt. Sinai that Moses received the written Torah (the first five books in the Bible), and during the forty-year period following the Exodus under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Moses put the Torah into writing.

The fact that God put His will into writing does not come as a surprise to most Christians, but what does cause people, particularly Protestants, to theologically stutter is the fact that the Jewish community of the Old Testament as well as the people of Jesus’ time all believed that God gave to Israel an oral law (oral tradition) in addition to the written law. Rabbi Hayim Donin in his book entitled To Be a Jew explains that “we believe that God’s will was also made manifest in the Oral Tradition or Oral Torah which also had its source at Sinai, revealed to Moses and then orally taught by him to the religious heads of Israel.

The Written Torah itself alludes to such oral instructions. This Oral Torah – which clarifies and provides the details for many of the commandments contained in the Written Torah – was transmitted from generation to generation until finally recorded in the second century to become the cornerstone upon which the Talmud was built.” (p.24-25) Jacob Neusner points out in his Introduction to the Mishnah, which is the codified oral tradition of the Jewish community, that the Oral Torah “bore the status of divine revelation right alongside the Pentateuch.”

The Jewish community, from which Christianity springs, has always understood Torah to be both written (Sefer Torah) and Oral (Torah She-B’al Peh). Along with the written Torah, the Oral Torah which Moses received at Sinai, was “transmitted to Joshua, and Joshua to the Elders, and the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets to the Men of the Great Assembly…” (Ethics of the Fathers 1:1). In nearly identical fashion the Catholic Church has continued in this tradition of the Word of God coming to His people in both written and oral form. It is fair to say that the new concept of God’s Word coming only in the written form (Sola Scriptura) was a foreign idea to the Jews both in Moses’ and Jesus’ day.

It must be made clear that the Catholic teaching that “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God” (DV 10) is not some new cleverly devised system, but is a continuation of that ancient stream our forefathers stood in. The very idea of the Word of God being both written and oral flows from our Jewish roots. It is part of the nourishing sap of the Olive Tree (Israel) and those who stand outside of this tradition, stand on the shores of the still flowing ancient current.

This is the first in a series of three blog posts on Scripture & Tradition. Come back tomorrow for the next installment.

This article was originally published in Envoy Magazine.

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