Verbum Domini: Is there a "Bible Crisis"?

With respect to recent (and not so recent) posts in this blog on Verbum Domini, a reader, Susan, sent in a link to an article concerning a talk by Cardinal Marc Ouellet in Spain in which he discussed Verbum Domini and a "crisis" with respect to the study of the Bible. The article cites him as saying:

"It would seem that, in the name of secularism, the Bible must be relativized, to be dissolved in a religious pluralism and disappear as a normative cultural reference."


However, the prelate affirmed, "the crisis has also penetrated the interior of the Church, given that a certain rationalist exegesis has seized the Bible to dissect the different stages and forms of its human composition, eliminating the prodigies and miracles, multiplying the theories and, not infrequently, sowing confusion among the faithful."

Read the rest of the article here.

Cardinal Ouellet sees the crisis both inside and outside the Church. Do you agree with him that there is such a crisis, and if so, is it both outside and within the Church?

John W. Martens

Follow me on Twitter @johnwmartens

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8 years 1 month ago
IS THERE A BIBLE CRISIS? Well, somebody's finally noticed.

What is clear to this point is that all this arcane discussion would be enough to make any parishioner's eyes glaze over. And this is part of the problem in so-called Bible Study. The second point is that there seems to be a confusion between Bible Study, which I assume to mean Biblical literacy, and the use of the Scriptures in Liturgy, which I am assuming refers to the lectionary. These are two different things. And this is part of the confusion.

There's a third point that really needs to be underscored: the Bible is narrative! It is storytelling! And anyone can grasp the story, and even appreciate it when it's put into a context. And, everybody likes stories! When studying Scriptures becomes an exercise for PhD's -  that's when people stop listening.

I'd suggest exploring Margaret Nutting Ralph's fine introduction to Scriptures ''And God Said What?'', as an example of how to 'teach' the Bible, and make it enjoyable, and intelligible.

By the way, if we don't get our Biblical Literacy act together, those elements out there who seek to discredit the authority of Scriptures are going to trounce us, so we'd better get this teaching stuff down right! So, it really is 'out there', as well as 'in here'.

Peace Out!
Marie Rehbein
8 years 1 month ago
Not being one to attend Bible studies in recent years, I base my sense of what is troubling the Cardinal on the fact that many television programs have been broadcast that claim to re-explain the Bible, whether it's in relation to space aliens, the apocolypse, Hitler, or the existence of writing that did not become part of the Bible.  I think these programs can shake people's faith, because, like Cardinal Ouellet says, they do not respect the reality of miracles.  However, I do not think that there is a huge cultural trend to redefine the Bible for secular purposes apart from entertainment.  I know that people watch these shows and talk about them to their pastors, and in most cases the pastors get a little annoyed by this.  It seems to me that Cardinal Ouellete is reacting this way.
Juan Lino
8 years 1 month ago
Yes, I agree that there is a crisis both outside and within the Church. In fact, what I often see when I attend "Bible Study" classes in my diocese is what I call a hermeneutic of doubt to the point that we spend so much time examining sources and/or who might have actually written the document that we rarely even look at the fact that it's a Divine Text whose goal is to tell us something.  Anyway, that's been my experience.
Timothy Kearney
8 years 1 month ago
I think the Cardinal does have some valid points. I think that in some cases, we’re almost afraid of scripture. If we take the Bible too literally, we are fundamentalists who have simplistic interpretations and we may not be too bright. If the words of scripture are “hard statements” we fear that we will be considered bigoted and closed minded if the words were read the at all. For this reason, many preachers and peple involved in Bible study can be tempted to find historical situations and events that do often water down scripture, making it more palatable to a wider audience. The only problem: the wider audience isn’t coming anymore and if the wider audience is attending a church or Bible study, it’s probably at an evangelical church where the Bible is being preached with no shame or fear.

While I do not offer any solutions to the problem, I do have some suggestions. First, for anyone who preaches on Sundays, look at the scripture from a liturgical point of view. My guess is when the earliest Christians gathered for Eucharist, and let’s say a letter from St. Paul was read, whoever was commenting probably did not say “we do know if Paul really write this, but someone stuck his name to it, so if you don’t like what he’s saying, he probably did not say it after all.” Today, these or similar words could easily be uttered. Reading scriptures liturgically allows us to enter into the Word. If historical; tidbits help, great. Preachers who do this will find that congregants can connect the words of scripture into their lives in a life giving way. If you are conducting a Bible study, use historical detail and critical questions that challenge people’s faith in a way that exhilarates and spurs a person into action. Also be careful when using popular theories. As anyone who keeps up with scripture study knows, theories come and theories go.

I suppose the best way to view the Bible from the point of view of faith is to see it as a collection of writings that has something to say to us today as it has for centuries rather than a writing that needs to be debunked. For Catholics, this should not be all that difficult since we believe the Bible to be God’s word.
David Jackson
8 years 1 month ago
I have discovered some important thoughts on the idea of ''Biblical Crisis'' in the book HOPE ABUNDANT (Third World and Indigenous Women's Theology).  I would like to be in e-mail contact with you.  My e-mail
David Jackson
8 years 1 month ago
Here is the link to the information from HOPE IN ABUNDANCE:
Julio Diaz
8 years 1 month ago
Yes. I think there is actually a crisis inside the Church concerning our faith in the Scriptures, the Holy Bible. If we read or study the Bible only for its historical, literary and cultural value, or in disbelief, to question every single word, or to manipulate it and make it say what we want to hear in disobedience, it will hardly produce in us the spiritual fruits it was written for. The miracles and other extraordinary or supernatural events narrated on it are simply telling us who God is, and how He created and loves humanity and each of us in particular from all eternity and for all times, despite sociocultural, political, economic and historical contexts. I don't have to believe literally that Peter could walk on water towards Jesus when he asked him to do so, but I don't see any problem if I believe that. God can do anything if we believe Him, if we have faith in Him and in Christ Jesus. That's what is important! In my opinion, when we read or study the Word of God this way we can actually listen to God talking to us today.  Like in these two verses of the Scriptures:

''For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening the truth and wander into myths.'' (2Tim.4:3-4) 
8 years 1 month ago

I am not "...suggesting that any discussion of the Bible is arcane and we ought to put a stop to it." To the contrary.

What I am saying is that your conversations have been 'over the heads' of the average person sitting in the pews. And it isn't necessary.

We have any number of new people joining the flock who were brought up understanding the Bible in a very different way than the way Catholics do. Only the 'tutored' would know what the Pontifical Biblical Commission document of 1992 says about Scriptures. And these are the folks who must be addressed in our 'teaching'. Not to mention the children we're trying to teach.

Yet, most people throughout the world know a good story, and how to parse that story in order to understand the underlying meaning. Why must arcane language be used when Jesus, Himself, never used arcane terms? He simply told the 'stories' and worked with that.

He never talked over people's heads. That's what I mean.

Marie Rehbein
8 years 1 month ago
Contrary to some of the postings here, my impression is that unless one delves into the Bible beyond the first impression and the childlike interpretation, the Bible becomes ho-hum and people begin to tune it out - having heard it all before and thinking that is all there is to hear.  I think the fact that there is so much interest in the Bible in a secular sense suggests that people want to get more out of it (though the TV shows are not the way to go) and may be surprised that there are these other aspects to it.  Maybe the Cardinal only gave the impression that he was unhappy with secular interpretations of the Bible and hoped to respond to the curiosity aroused by these efforts.
Julio Diaz
8 years 1 month ago
I have not found the Bible is treated like that in any of the official written documents of the Church or by any priests or religious personality in the Church.  I meant that's how the Bible is usually treated outside the Church.  However, in Bible study groups, in the Church, I have perceived a tendency to emphasize on those points and to pay much less attention to the spiritual application of the Word of God to our lives. There is no problem in questioning every word to attempt to understand what the Bible says. But I think much more emphasis should be put on our intention when reading or studying the Bible: am I actually willing to understand and apply its teachings to my life? Or, am I eager to find ''something'' that allows me to accomodate what is written to today's social consent, to political or ideological biases,  or  to my personal preferences? That is where I think the crisis in Bible study is.
Love and peace in Christ our Lord!
Kang Dole
8 years 1 month ago
"He never talked over people's heads. That's what I mean."

It seems to me that in many places in the gospels, talking over people's heads is an essential part of Jesus' M.O.

8 years 1 month ago
THANKS FOR KEEPING THE DISCUSSION GOING. But let's back up to 'arcane', 'arcana' and 'esoteric'. Arcana in the AHD is "specialized...mysterious to the average person..." and this is the focus of my comments. In your context, as a professor at St. Thomas University, you seem to be 'preaching to the choir', and your choir is not the average person. Yet, the readership of America seems to be a little broader. My own contexts include working with children and adults in a parish setting, as well as with undergraduates and graduate students in a public university. And these students, as well as any faculty who might be from our flock, are in the midst of an environment that is less than friendly to the Catholic Church, and religion in general. And this is the challenge that our Catholic students and faculty must meet. So, I depend upon America, and other such publications to address issues in a way that is intelligible to students and faculty who have not studied to be theologians, or religious educators. In fact, I think the challenge to these students and faculty dealing with activist non-believers in public universities is much more difficult.

So, while I appreciate the three discussions on Verbum Domini, the discussion slips into esoterica not familiar to the students and faculty in public universities - with rare exception.

I suggest you look at the very first response to your Verbum Domini (3) discussion of 2/16.

Sounds like a sincere Christifidelis to me, but latin aside, her comment "...I find it very off putting; those in the know can understand what the theme of something is but not the pew sitters. We don't matter."

My concern is for the challenge to religion and the authority of the Bible in the context of a public university, and a secular public that many of our students, and parishioners in the larger world may feel a need to respond to, but may not feel prepared to do so. Thus, it is the way the discussion is being articulated, and not the fact that there is discussion at all.

The 'average pew sitters' have not been exposed to the Pontifical Biblical Commissions 1993 document, but we have. And it is our responsibility to 'translate' and 'interprete' such documents so that we are in fact teaching, and preparing the 'pew sitters' - young and adult, in our parishes, and in public universities to respond to the challenge to the authority of Scriptures. And it is not so much the document, but how and what it says about Scriptures and how they are to be 'understood'.

When one of our flock - perhaps a student exposed to philosophy and science, or politics - is 'exposed' to the 'inconsistencies' in Scriptures, it would be a good idea to be able to explain such 'inconsistencies' and not just expect them to 'accept in good faith' what cannot be explained - because it can be explained, and the 'pew sitters' would be helped by such efforts. In the secular world they are beset by well-organized non-believers and we dare not leave them unarmed!

So, I hope you can see what I was trying to say, and express in my concern about 'specialized knowledge' that ought not to be relegated to the few. It's all been entrusted to us to share with the faithful, and the questioners, and make it understandable to all - not just, we, privileged few.

And when Jesus did 'talk over people's heads' it was not the 'average pew sitters' whose heads he was talking over, it was the knowledgeable people, the 'people in the know'. And since when should Catholics be afraid to ask questions? Cardinal Newman said quite famously "The Church fears no knowledge!"

Peace out!

8 years ago
I’m a non-academic pew-sitter who became fascinated with the Bible about 20 years ago, when I took a three-year Bible Study course with a small group of people in my parish that I had conned into doing it with me.  It was written by the theology faculty at the University of the South and distributed through Loyola University of Chicago.   
Since then, I’ve read many books and have facilitated parish level Bible Studies.   Being an engineer has helped immensely.  I guess my interest in the Bible comes from my engineering mindset in which I see something and then want to figure out how it “works”.
As an engineer, I must humbly admit that I do not have more than a high school education as far as the humanities are concerned.  And so I am amazed at what I have learned about ancient religions, cultures, languages, literatures, and histories.  A seminal book for me was Joseph Campbell’s “The Power of Myth.”  From that book I learned that a story does not have to have actually happened in order to tell a truth.  That was huge for me.   
I’ve found in my parish that the Little Rock program that I facilitate does not avoid these “sensitive” issues, yet still and always presents the Scriptures as the Word of God.  Struggling with such issues and understanding the Bible as the Word of God are NOT incompatible with one another.  In our Bible studies, the purpose is NOT to “debunk” the Bible, but to accurately show it as the human product it really is.  Although the Bible is the inspired Word of God, that does NOT mean that it’s some kind of Magic Book that floated down from heaven on a satin pillow surrounded by choirs of angels singing hymns.  I’ve learned that the Bible is as human as Jesus is.  And it seems to me that to see that and to come to know it by struggling through a good Bible study program is part and parcel of becoming a biblically literate Christian who has encountered the Scriptures on its terms, not our own. 
 “Devout” parish-level Bible study programs seem to deliberately avoid these issues completely.  That is not being truthful about the Bible to a group of people who are asking to be educated about the Bible.  That is showing a complete lack of faith in a people of faith.  
I think two things are necessary for a Christian to be literate in the Bible:  knowing the Bible, and knowing about the Bible.  Both are necessary.  


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