God’s Covenant Plan, Lesson 1.2

God’s Covenant Plan

Lesson One: How a Catholic Starts to Read the Bible

Lesson Objectives

  1. To learn how to read the Bible the way the Catholic Church has always read it.
  2. To understand the concepts of “salvation history” and “covenant” and their importance for reading the Bible.
  3. To learn the key points of the creation story in the Bible’s first book, Genesis.

II. Going by the Book: How a Catholic Reads the Bible

A. Divine Revelation: How God Speaks to Us

Christianity is a religion of the Word, not of a book! The Word is a Person - Jesus Christ. He is God’s "final word" on everything. Through Jesus,

God has revealed everything He wanted to reveal to us about who He is and what He intends for our lives. God’s revelation of Himself comes to us in three ways:

  • Scripture  (the Bible)
  • Tradition  (especially the liturgy of the Church - the Mass and the sacraments)
  • The Magisterium  (the Church’s teachings, such as its dogmas and creeds)

The Holy Spirit is at work through all three channels - He inspires Scripture, animates the Church’s living Tradition, and guarantees the teaching of the Church’s Magisterium (Catechism, nos. 81-82).

B. Reading and Interpreting the Scripture: The Three Rules

Because God’s revelation comes to us through these three channels, we must remember three important criteria for reading and interpreting Scripture: *

The Content & Unity of Scripture:

Though Scripture is made up of different books, we can’t read them as separate books. We have to read each one in light of the rest, keeping in mind that Jesus revealed that there is a unity in God’s plan for the world, as that plan is revealed in Scripture.

St. Augustine used to say that: "The New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old Testament is revealed in the New." What he meant is that Jesus showed us how the things that God says and does in the Old Testament pointed to what He says and does in the New. In turn, what Jesus says and does in the New Testament sheds light on the promises and events we read about in the Old.

The Church’s Living Tradition:

We must always read Scripture within the context of the Church’s Tradition. That means that we should always see how the Church interprets certain Scripture passages, especially in the prayers and readings it uses for the Mass and for special feasts in the Church.

Analogy of Faith:

The same Holy Spirit who inspired the Scriptures also safeguards the Church’s teaching authority. That means that if we’re going to read and interpret Scripture properly - the way God intends it to be read - we have to make sure our interpretations don’t contradict the interpretations found in the Church’s creeds and other statements of doctrine.

C. Scripture is Divine: Inspiration

As you can tell by now, there’s no other book like the Bible. The Church teaches that just as Jesus was "true God and true man," the Bible is truly a work of human authors and at the same time is truly the work of God as the divine author.

This is the mystery of the divine "inspiration" of Scripture (see 2 Timothy 3:16). The word "inspired" in the Greek, literally means "God-breathed." And that’s a good way to think about the inspiration of Scripture. Just as God fashioned Adam out of the clay of the earth and blew the breath of life into him (see Genesis 2:7), God breathes His Spirit into the words of the human authors of Scripture and makes them the Living Word of God.

The way the Church explains it, it happened like this: The human authors used their literary skills, ideas and other talents in writing the pages of the Bible. But while they were writing, God was acting in them so that what they wrote was exactly what He wanted them to write (see Vatican II’s Dei Verbum, scroll down to nos. 11-12: Catechism, nos. 105-107).

The human writers were "true authors" of Scripture, and so was God.

Because God is its co-author, and because God cannot err or make mistakes, we say that whatever we read in the Bible is true, free from "error" and has been put there for our salvation. This is called the "inerrancy" of Scripture.

This is a very complicated concept that we can’t explain fully in this class. But it’s important to always read the Bible on its own terms. The Bible doesn’t set out to teach modern history, science or geography or biography. So we shouldn’t try to compare what it says about the creation of the world, for instance, to what modern science teaches us.

That doesn’t mean the Bible is ever wrong. The Bible, entire and whole, is true and without error - not only in what it teaches about faith and morals, but also what it says about historical events and personages. It will never lead us astray. But we have to interpret it responsibly - we have to understand that it is giving us history and natural events from a "religious" and divine perspective, and often uses symbolic language.

D. Scripture is Human: The Bible as Religious Literature and History

Practically speaking, the "divine-human" authorship of Scripture means we have to read the Bible differently than we approach other books.

When we read the Bible we must remember that it is the Word of God told in human language. It’s important that we understand the "human element" of Scripture. As we’ll see, this human element can’t really be separated from the divine element.

But it’s important when we read the Bible to remember that it is:

Literature: The Bible uses literary forms, devices, structures, figures, etc. We must look for the "literary" clues that convey a meaning.
Ancient: The Bible is ancient. Its not written like modern literature. It’s meaning is wrapped up with the way the ancients looked at the world and recorded history. Although they were interested in recording history, they were not interested in "pure history." History was more than just politic, economics and wars - it had a deeper significance.
Religious: Today people think of religion in terms of personal piety. Not so for the ancients. The word "religion" comes from the Latin, "religare," - "to bind together." For the ancients everything - culture, history, the economy, diplomacy - was bound together by the religion. The Bible gives us history, but it is religious history. It is history from God’s perspective.

Continue to Section 3

Other Lessons

  • Lesson Two: Creation, Fall and Promise
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To read Genesis 1-3 with understanding.
    2. To learn God’s “original intent” in creating man and woman.
    3. To understand the sin of Adam and Eve and understand God’s promise of a New Adam and a New Eve.

    Begin Lesson Two

  • Lesson Three: East of Eden, Headed to Egypt
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To read Genesis 3-50 with understanding.
    2. To understand God’s covenants with Noah and with Abraham and to see how these covenants look forward to, and are fulfilled in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.
    3. To appreciate the key figures in the story of Abraham - Melchizedek, circumcision, the sacrifice of Isaac - as they are interpreted in the Church’s tradition.

    Begin Lesson Three

  • Lesson Four: On the Way to the Promised Land
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To read the Books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy with understanding.
    2. To understand God’s covenant with Israel at Sinai and to see how this covenant looks forward to and is fulfilled in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.
    3. To appreciate the key figures and events - Moses, the Passover, and the vocation of Israel as “a kingdom of priests” - as they are interpreted in the Church’s tradition.

    Begin Lesson Four

  • Lesson Five: To Kingdom Come
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To finish reading the Old Testament (from Joshua to Malachi) and to read with understanding.
    2. To understand the broad outlines of the history of Israel in light of God’s covenant with Abraham.
    3. To appreciate the crucial importance of God’s everlasting covenant with David.

    Begin Lesson Five

  • Lesson Six: Into the Kingdom of the Son
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To read the New Testament with understanding.
    2. To understand how the New Testament depicts Jesus as the fulfillment of the covenants of the Old Testament.
    3. To appreciate, especially, the importance of God’s everlasting covenant with David for understanding the mission of Jesus and the Church as it is presented in the New Testament.

    Begin Lesson Six