Do You Want Greater Knowledge of Christ?
St. Jerome, a Doctor of the Church, once quipped that “ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.” This is very true, and it is very true in its inverse—knowledge of scripture is knowledge of Christ. Today I hope to share with you a technique that will help you use the scriptures as a basis of prayer and study to grow in the realization and knowledge of being in a relationship with the incarnate God, Jesus Christ, who dwells within us and thus to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Thus, I want to present to you here a particular method for studying the scriptures that will allow you to grow in knowledge of Jesus Christ through knowledge of the scriptures. But one quick warning. The temptation might be to totally separate this method into a purely academic mental exercise and not into prayer. It must always be remembered that the best theology is done on our knees. We must make our study of scripture a prayer; otherwise we stop engaging in theology and rather move into religious studies. We move from a “faith seeking understanding” to religious studies, or dispassionately studying the human phenomenon of religion. We want to always be doing theology, not religious studies.
That being said, this is a legitimate study of scripture. It is based on, and not modified much from, a technique being taught in graduate schools of theology and in seminaries. It is a process used by many priests for studying the scriptures in preparation of their homilies and growing in their own relationship with Christ. You will be doing real theology here. A good thing about this technique here is that, although obviously helpful, knowledge of biblical language is not necessary. Knowing Greek and Hebrew, as the languages of the original texts of scripture, is very helpful in studying these writings, but takes years and years of dedicated time and energy. This technique will not require you to know any of these languages. You will also be able to do all your research for this technique via the internet, so you do not need to have access to a large theological library often found only at graduate schools and seminaries. These two aspects of this technique make it perfect for those people who want to use the scriptures to grow in their knowledge and love of Jesus Christ through the scriptures.
Here is an outline the steps with some very brief things notes about each of them.
Step 1 - Say a prayer to the Holy Spirit
This step should be first in everything we do in prayer. For when we pray it is the holy spirit praying through us. Asking the Holy Spirit to guide our study helps us recognize this and asks God to be our guide as we seek to grow closer to his Son, Jesus Christ.
Step 2 - Choose a Scripture Passage
This step is important. A quick story to show the importance of this step: I had a friend once who wanted to pray with scripture and so he decided to randomly open up his bible and pray on the first verse his eyes found. So he flipped open his bible and his eyes fell upon Matthew 27:5. If you really know your bible, you’re laughing right now. If, like me, you don’t know that verse off the top of your head it reads “[a]nd he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.” Although this verse can provide much in terms of fuel for prayer, it wasn’t quite what my friend was expecting. So, choosing the scripture you want to work with is important.
Step 3 - Reading the Scripture Within Context
When the bible was originally written there weren’t such things as chapters and verses. Often we forget this, and allow the chapter and verse breaks to interrupt our reading. And often, when we look at small scripture passages, we fall into the trap of only looking at that small passage. In this step, we’ll look at reading the passage within the context of where it falls in the larger contextof the book of the bible it can be found in.
Step 4 - Comparing Words Across Translations of the Bible
When we read and study the bible in English, we are reading and studying the chosen words of translators who have spent time translating the bible. If you’ve ever had the task of translating a piece of writing from one language to another you know how challenging this task can be. It is much more involved than simply copying and pasting the text into Google Translate. Idioms in one language often don’t work in other languages. Thus as we look at a passage of scripture we are looking at the result of many hours of decisions as to how to translate the words. In this step look at how to use these hours of learned scholars' work for our benefit and compare translations to each other. This can be done easily in the modern world using an online resource like Bible Gateway.
Step 5 - Finding the Words in Other Places in Scripture
Words often carry meanings beyond what we see on the surface. In this step you should begin to see where the words chosen in our passage of scripture have been used elsewhere in the bible, in both the Old and New Testament. It is often in this step that connections between various scripture passages begin to become obvious where once they were veiled. This step often takes the most time, but conversely is the most illuminating. Bible Gateway, again, is an excellent resource for this.
Step 6 - We Make Our Own Interpretation of What We Have Read
Finally, we begin to our interpretation of the scripture we have been studying. It is important enough to mention explicitly here: we, as Catholics, place ourselves under the guidance of the Holy Spirit through the Magisterium of the Church. When we do our own theology, we must always, ALWAYS, have the humility of being willing to give deference to the learned and guided wisdom of the Church. We may think of something that goes against the tradition of the Church. When this happens, we MUST be willing to say, and believe, that we are mistaken and resolve to learn more. We must never place ourselves outside the thinking of the Church. We must never be so prideful to think that we are smarter and holier than the collected wisdom of the Church who is guided and guaranteed by the Holy Spirit. Remember that we are members of the Church, not greater than the Church.
Step 7 - Read the Church Fathers on the Scripture Passage
This is an extremely important step because, in short, we basically don’t want to come into our thinking with preconceived notions. This step is where we draw on the beauty, depth, and wisdom of our 2,000 year tradition. You can find the writings of the Church Fathers online. They can shed so much light on the scriptures and are, sadly, becoming lost to many, many Catholics.
Step 8 - Returning to Prayer
Once we have done our study it is time to return to prayer with our new found knowledge and understanding. A great way to do this is via Lectio Divina with our scripture passage. If you are not familiar with this type of prayer with scripture, that is alright as there are plenty of other types of prayer that will only grow deeper and more meaningful by doing this scripture study. But as our main goal in doing this study is to grow deeper in awareness of God’s love for us and in our own faith, it makes complete sense that the final step would be to return to our knees in prayer.