How to Read the Bible-a Catholic Perspective
How to Read the Bible
Do you want to read your Bible, but are unsure about where to start reading or even how to read the Bible? Do not be intimidated. (I know-that is easier said than done!) The bible is the written Word of God. It is a way God uses to introduce Himself to us so that we may know Him better. You can think of it as a love letter from God to you.
You can think of the Bible as a love letter from God to you.
God has a long history with mankind. From the creation of Adam and Eve, to the calling of Abraham, to Jesus’s birth, and the work of the apostles, God has been with His people. He wants us to know Him. He gave us the Bible, His inspired word, so we could learn more about Him.
As we read the Bible, however, we also learn about ourselves and how God wants for us to live.
So, where or how do we begin? How do you start reading the Bible?
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has an article by Mary Elizabeth Sperry about Understanding the Bible that you may find helpful.
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1. Find a good Catholic Bible
Yes, there is a difference between Catholic and non-Catholic bibles. A Catholic Bible will have all of the books in it that the early Church determined were inspired by God and belonged in the bible. After the split in the Church, those who we no longer Catholic removed some of the books from the Bible.
How can you be sure you have or purchase a Catholic Bible? Make sure the Bible is approved by the Apostolic See (Rome). A Bible’s Introduction section may tell you more about the edition of that particular Bible.
In the first few pages, it should have the words “Imprimatur” and will likely also have the words “Nihil Obstat,” each followed by a name. This means that the Bible has been determined by the Bishop named to be free from doctrinal or moral error and approved for publication.
New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE), the New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition (RSVCE), and Good News Translation (Today’s English Version, Second Edition), American Bible Society are each approved Catholic editions. Source: USCCB’s website
The Catholic Journaling Bible is the NAB-RE version. It has wide margins so you can write your notes or draw right in your Bible.
2. Pray before you read the Bible.
What is your objective in reading the Bible? Do you want to learn more about God? Do you want to understand Jesus’ sacrifice for us better? Perhaps you want to know how to live your life well according to how Jesus told us to live. Maybe you want to learn more about the early Church or the Sacraments.
Realize what it is you want to know as you read the Bible. Before you begin reading, ask God to help you to understand this as you read. Ask Him to enlighten you with His word so you may know and understand what He wants for you to know and understand as you read.
It may be helpful to keep a notebook by your Bible so when you read you can jot down any thoughts, realizations, or inspirations you have that you want to remember.
For reference: Prayer Before Reading the Bible
3. Read the introduction of each book and the footnotes.
Many Bible translations have an introduction at the beginning of each book of the Bible and have footnotes throughout the Bible to explain different terms or situations.
The introduction is helpful because it lets you know who wrote that book of the Bible, why it was written, and whom it was written to or for. For example, 1 Corinthians was written by St. Paul to the Christian people of Corinth. St. Paul wanted to help and encourage them in their faith. The book of Exodus tells about the Jewish people's journey out of Egypt after hundreds of years of slavery.
Footnotes are helpful to learn terms and customs that you may not know. They help you to see a fuller picture of what is going on in the passage you are reading.
Each book of the Bible was written for a specific people and for a specific reason. Knowing this helps you to understand more about what you are reading.
4. Try different methods of reflection as you read.
As you prayerfully read the Bible, try to approach reading it in different ways.
Place yourself in the scene as an observer.
As you read the passage, look at what is going on as if you were there.
What is the crowd like around Lazarus' tomb when Jesus arrived? What are people murmuring around you? How do they feel? What do they think?
Imagine being at the Last Supper as Jesus celebrated the first Mass, offering the Apostles His Body and Blood for the first time. Did Jesus have the Apostels' full attention? What did the Apostles think?
What insights do you learn by putting yourself in the scene?
Think about what was going on in history at the time.
Why is this passage significant? What is the purpose of this passage? How is it important related to the time in which it was written?
When Jesus says, "Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone" regarding the woman caught in adultery, why is it significant, given the laws at the time about adultery? What does this tell you about Jesus?
Ask yourself, what is God telling me in the passage?
Is God speaking to you personally in this passage? Does He have a message for you right now?
When you read about the ten Commandments, do you realize you need to do better at teaching them to your children and set a better example yourself?
For further reading: Catholic Bible Reflections Ideas
5. Refer to a concordance or use a Catholic Study Bible.
Learning how to read the Bible can be a fun adventure, but sometimes you may want a little help to understand it better.
A concordance is a book that has an alphabetical index of the main words you find in the Bible and where to find them. It can be helpful when you have specific themes or words you want to locate in the Bible. The New American Bible Revised Edition Concise Concordance is one such book.
A Catholic Study Bible is helpful to give more details and information about the Bible passages to help you understand them more fully. A study Bible may also contain essays or other commentaries about certain Bible passages or topics. Two Catholic study Bibles are: The Catholic Study Bible (NABRE) and The Didache Bible: With Commentaries Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church (RSV-2CE).
Are you unsure where to begin reading the Bible?
If you are looking for a starting point in beginning to read the Bible, you may want to begin with the Gospels.
Why the Gospels (the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John)? After all, they are in the second part of the Bible, not the beginning! Yes. The New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. This means that all of the promises God made that are recorded in the Old Testament have been fulfilled with the coming of Jesus.
The Gospels are about Jesus' birth, His ministry on earth, His suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven. Also in the New Testament are books written by Apostles and disciples of Jesus about the work of the disciples after Jesus' resurrection and prophecy about Jesus coming again.
For further reading: Create A Simple Catholic Bible Reading Plan
Resources to help you read the Bible
Follow through on your desire to read the Bible. Don't wait until you know all you want to know before you begin. Remember, the Bible is a love letter from God to you. He reveals Himself in the Bible and wants you to know Him even better.
Say a prayer and dive in.
Sometimes watching a video is helpful. Here is a video by Fr. Mike Schmitz on ways to read the Bible.
So you can access them easily, here is a round-up of the posts mentioned throughout the post:
Enjoy your journey in reading the Bible as you continue to grow in faith and love of God.