THE BIBLE

When we talk about the Bible, we can reflect on the Bible with many questions. First question that comes to our mind is what is the Bible? Why should we read the Bible? How do we know that the Bible is God’s Word and God’s revelation? Why do people talk about Old Testament and New Testament? When is it that the Bible was divided into two sections Old Testament and New Testament and what is the meaning of the written work in revelation to the traditions of the Christian communities? And then we can also have a question when we read the Bible what is the attitude a reader should have when he/ she reads the Bible?

Let me start answering the question, what is Bible in general. We read in the beginning of the letter to the Hebrews 1:1-4, “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets but in these last days he has spoken to us by a son who, He appointed heir of all things through whom He also created all the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and an exact imprint of God’s very being and he sustains all things by the power of His Word when he had made purifications for our sins he sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. “These words give you a very brief introduction to the meaning of the Word Bible.

Bible is called by the Christians the sacred Book. The Christians accept and believe that the Bible is the revealed Word of God, the Word which God spoke to humanity. In fact the letter to the Hebrews in the beginning gives a short explanation about the Bible saying “God spoke to humanity in the beginning days in various ways.”  In fact God spoke through the nature, when you see the sky, the stars , the mountains, the trees, the birds that fly, the animals that move around the wild forest, the ocean and the fishes that swim in the water all these in some way or the other proclaim God’s glory.

So God spoke through nature in one way just as it you look at a big building, a big IT complex, when you look at this building, a massive structure, you see this structure has a design and it definitely talks about the designer. Suppose you have a book in your hand on medicine or on information Technology or you have a computer in your hand. You know this computer is designed by someone so the computer itself speechless yet it speaks about a maker. Similarly this grand universe which has a grand design speaks about a designer, God. That is the first kind of revelation you can talk about. But the  Bible says that God not only spoke through these natural ways of creation but God appointed certain people to speak to humanity what God wants about people, that’s why Bible itself talks about prophets in the Old Testament.

God spoke through the prophets, definitely the Jewish people believed in the Jewish prophets but in one way we can say prophets are not only in the Jewish country, there were definitely many rishis in India, many wise men in China, Babylon, Egypt, Mesopotamia and likewise. There were kings and rulers there were just rulers too. Therefore, in one way God spoke through the nature and also God made use of human beings themselves as instruments to communicate His message.

Why should I read the Bible?

The Old Testament and the New Testament all together make a Christian revealed book of God we can ask a question now why should we read Bible? The basic belief as I said that the Bible is God’s word, God spoke through the prophets in earlier days but now He spoke to us directly by sending his only son Jesus Christ, by listening to God we become more and more dear to God because God’s Word  yields Love towards Him. Therefore we read bible to listen to God’s word just as a child listens to its parents. A wife listening to her husband or a husband to his wife or a friend listening to a friend. God is our father, we listen to the Him. God is our mother we listen to mother.God is our brother we listen to our brother, God is our sister we listen to our sister so it’s a loving attitude towards God that what makes you to be more and more closely related to him as St. Ignatius of Loyola said “that I may know him more and more, that I may love him more and more earnestly, intimately that I may follow him more and more closely"

So this is a grace to read the Bible is a divine grace, the grace help you to know him more and more, to love him more and more intimately and to follow him more and more closely and that’s why reading the Bible is a great instrument and an inspiration to know God, to love him and to follow him, that way you are intimately and closely united with God. So this is the answer it is something like why do you want to be with your parents or your son/daughter, or with your sister or brother or with your life partner. This Is your personal relationship. Therefore reading the Bible is to enhance your own personal relationship with him if you have no relationship with him at all you have to create a new relationship with him start reading the Bible if you are already related to God then read Bible so that you can be more and more intimately related to him and follow him. Because relationship or personal relationship is never static. Personal relationship is a relationship that grows it is not something like a stone or rock. A rock is static, personal relationship is something dynamic.

You love your child, parents, life partner everyday more and more. It is not married for only a day, giving birth to a child is not for a day, you are a brother or a sister to the other not just for one day, but everyday as long as we live our relationship continues ad everyday personal relationship is a dynamic one more and more intimately related to each other and more and more closely you are attached to each other and our personal relationship with God is that . St. Ignatius said we grow in our relationship and intimacy with God and as that reading Bible is to create your relationship more and more with God intimately and follow him very closely. Therefore that’s the answer why should I read the Bible.

How do you know that Bible is God’s revelation or God’s Word?

Next one how do you know that Bible is God’s revelation or God’s Word? Reflecting with a simple question here is a young boy talking to me just in front of my desk say Michael, how do I know that this is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas. Do you think immediately I will rush for a DNA test? No, I don’t need to go. This boy is now 23 and he is living with his parents and they take care of him. His life is a witness for me. He has been living in a home with his parents is a witness for me I don’t ask for lab test. So what convince me are the address and above all his life witness with his parents for the past years.  Similarly now if I want to know God’s revelation, is not through scientific question whether it is a God’s revelation. God’s revelation is lived by a community of people. The community of people who believed in God’s word and that word has helped them to live in a proper human way, a life that was lived in love and charity, a life of hope, a life of justice and truth, a life of mutual understanding, a life of forgiveness and that gives a me a testimony, this book talks to me something of God because they are living by that. Therefore in one way life of a community gives me ample proof of the revealed character of the Book which they believe. It is the living testimony of the people that talks about the word revealed to them.

Therefore even before they are written word they are living life is the greatest testimony and proof for me, if people are all the time quarrelling, if the people all the time terrorize others, do injustice how do I believe or accept which they say as God’s Word. Extremely difficult for me. Therefore ultimately for me the New Testament and the Old Testament is based upon the living witness of the people today personally if I say why I believe in the Old Testament and the New Testament, the Bible as God’s revelation, I did not make the Bible, it’s given to me, by my parents, my parents are good people, just people, loving people, they used to worship God, they used to go everyday to the church, they were loving and caring for me so for me my first proof for Bible were my own parents, and not only that around the church there were priests there was a Christian community and they read the Bible, the priests used to speak about it and so this living community in a way gave me proof. If you ask whether I believe in Bible I do because my parents told me I believe because they are good people to me, just people, truthful, to me. So in a way faith is handed over to me just as the Bible is handed over to me it’s a tradition otherwise I never went to heaven to find out whether God spoke in this way, I never have a proof that God spoke to me in my ears, it’s my parents, priest, church and the communion between them spoke to me. The ultimate is that Bible is revealed to me by God is practically the loving, living life of the people, the community ultimately let me say it’s the Christian church that has taught me that Bible is revealed by God. No other way I never went to heaven God never spoke to me directly over the telephone; he never had a cell phone to speak to me.

Therefore if I say you Bible is a revealed word for me I am taught to believe in it. Today after long years of education and experience I know that the word given to me the ideal will of God their way that Humanity or making should be pleasing to God by a way of life of love, justice and truth and this is communicated to me by the word when I read the bible and that’s why I believe that Bible is revealed.

Old Testament and New Testament

The Bible is divided into two parts, Old Testament and New Testament. We have 46 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New Testament. Now the Old Testament 46 books have been considered still sacred by the Jewish people. That’s the word which God spoke to them through Moses and later through prophets but the New Testament which is not accepted by the Jews or non Christians. The Christians however believe that the New Testament begins with the history of Jesus Christ. Now for Christians the Old Testament in a way is the revelation that God will appear to humanity. God will come to visit humanity in person that God will come to redeem as Messiah as a Saviour, to establish God’s friendship once again with humanity that’s the Old Testament promises that there is hope. But in the New Testament it is fulfilled. The New Testament says that promise is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, born of Mary, the virgin mother of Nazareth and Jesus Christ is accepted and believed as Messiah and savior of mankind and this is the basic belief, the foundation of Christian faith and that’s the foundation of New Testament. Therefore if you talk about what way the Old Testament and New Testament are separated it is not separated as such. One way the Old Testament is the prediction about the fulfillment of the New Testament.

New Testament is the completion of the hope or the fulfillment of the promise of the Old Testament. Therefore Old Testament in a way is completed in the New Testament and the New Testament fulfills what God had promised to humanity and it is not a separation as such but a completion so according to Christians without New Testament, the Bible is not complete, why do Christians accept also the Old Testament with the Jewish people. Because Jewish people believed in the coming of the Messiah and in the life of Jesus. Christians believe that what was promised is fulfilled in Him. As we read in Luke 4, when Jesus entered into synagogue in Capernaum the gospel reads, “Jesus filled with the power of the spirit returned to Galilee and a report about him spread through all the surrounding countries. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone when Jesus came to Nazareth where he had been brought up, went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day as was his custom. He stood up to read and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, the spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, he sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favors and he rolled up the scroll gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him then he began to say to them today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing (Lk.4:14-19) and that is the New Testament. It is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Old Testament as Jesus himself quoted from Isaiah.

The prophet Isaiah speaks about the future glory, the glory of the people, the redemption of the people through messiah and that messiah is Jesus himself and that is what he claims to be. Therefore ultimately the basis of the New Testament is this claim of Jesus that he is the fulfillment of the promise that he is the messiah, that the redeemer of mankind. Therefore the separation is not done in whimsical way as one likes to have it. It is simply based upon the faith of the Christians and secondly if you want to have little more clarity read the four Gospels about the last supper. In the Gospels of St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke and St. John, all these four Gospels talk about the last supper there is slight different in the first three Gospels what we call synoptic but basically they mean the same Jesus established a new covenant with His people.

The Old Testament, the Old Covenant is what was established by God during the Paschal feast established by Moses, when the people were freed from the slavery of Egyptians Moses, through the inspiration and commandment of God established the Paschal Feast, which is an establishment of a covenant between people and God and sign of the covenant – they killed a lamb, paschal lamb and the blood. So the Old Covenant, the old law was established with a sign of a blood of a lamb, an animal. That would be the sign but in the New Testament, New Covenant, Jesus stamps the covenant by his own blood. Therefore he said ‘this is my blood in the New Covenant.” He took a cup of wine and said “this is my blood, a new covenant for you so that way you and I are one.”

Therefore New Testament is making a new type of communion between God and man in blood. Jesus sheds his blood on the cross and with that he establishes a union, intimate union with humanity forgives our sins, in forgiveness of our sins he sheds the blood. Therefore the New Testament is basically forgiveness of our sins so we become a new people with God. Jesus by this blood washes our sins away and he makes us once again a new people in the image of God and that’s the very first promise in the book of Genesis. One day a redeemer will come and he will put everything in order. He will forgive all the sins and that’s why the New Testament in a way is a New Covenant, a covenant in the precious blood of Jesus. Therefore the basis of New Testament is the Eucharist, the precious Body and Blood of Christ. In the body and blood of Christ Jesus is establishing a new communion with the people.

Therefore what’s the foundation of the Bible on the New Testament? The foundation is the death of Jesus, his body and blood and that’s why for the Catholics today, celebration of the Eucharist everyday is something very important. Every day to remember this covenant, communion with God that’s why Jesus after giving his precious blood, “do this in commemoration of me” and that word Catholics take it literally from that day till today. Jesus has given us this precious covenant of communion with him every day to remember his body and blood so that we live it every day, a life of love. When we read the Gospel of St. Jn.13:17,18, so beautifully he says all will know that you are my disciples if you love each other so ultimately what is the sign or proof of New Testament of Christians. It is their love for each other. If Christians love each other then all will know that you are Disciples of Christ. Therefore Jesus is a way is not telling to carry the Bible with each other. That is not the point you may carry the Bible and you may kill each other, you may cheat, you many also carry the Bible as a thief.

I know a person in Jail who carried the Bible with some drugs inside, to cheat the jailer, because he pretends to be a pious man with Bible in the hand but that’s not the proof. Ultimately the testimony of the Bible is your life – life of love, forgiveness, justice, truth, sincerity, kindness, compassion, and understanding. Jesus is beautifully telling his disciples all will know you are my disciples if you love each other and therefore Jesus on the last day of his earthly life, the day before his death, the monde Thursday, during the last supper it is said Jesus washed the feet to show I love you I save you if I your master and Lord do this you imitate me. You also serve each other, wash the feet of each other, and love each other, show kindness and understanding to each other. Therefore ultimately the touch stone of the revelation of God in the New Testament is this Eucharist. Eucharist would mean a deep loving communion with God and each other. That’s why for Christians as I told you I believed in Bible because of my parents and their life in that small village. The proof of the New Testament is not the written Bible itself it’s the loving community which is the witness of the written Bible. That’s what our Lord wants so I can put another point. What is the connection between the written Bible and the lived tradition? I don’t simply mean living tradition but lived tradition every day.

This is precisely the Good News or the Gospel of the New Testament. There is a big difference between the Old Testament and New Testament, the Old Testament is  a revelation of God through nature, through Prophets, kings, wise men, good people as the promise of God’s life with humanity and that fulfillment is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ manifested his love to humanity in many ways, though he lived 33 years here on earth. People began to look at him only for three years, thirty years he lived in a hidden way with his mother at Nazareth perhaps as a child in Egypt. Those three years, his public ministry people began to like at him.

He spoke to them powerfully, he did many miracles and sometimes very explicitly he claimed that he is the Son of God, that he is the messiah, the one sent by the father but many Jewish people who believed in prophets and Moses did not accept Jesus when they saw him because he came simply as a carpenter, a simple worker, son of a carpenter son of Mary they said from Nazareth. They did not see Jesus in a glamorous way like a senior star or a king or  a ruler or a big military general someone like Julius Cesar he was an ordinary man so for Jews he looked as not imposing very much, not glamorous so they found difficult to accept him. But Jesus himself several times told if you don’t want to accept my words, accept what you see namely the miracles that he did. The blind see, the deaf hear the dumb speak, the lamb walk; the dead are raised to life. Famous example was Lazarus. He was dead and rotten in the tomb for four days. Jesus comes there asks his sisters, Martha and Mary please roll away the stone. And Martha, Lazarus sister tells Jesus, “Lord, it will be stinging, it is rotten its already four days inside the tomb. But Jesus tells them, Martha do you believe in me you will live and finally they roll away the stone and Jesus speaks to the dead, people standing around astonished Jesus tells Lazarus come out and he comes out alive that’s why Jesus was telling them, “my words are words of God, I speak to you what my father has taught me to talk to you, now my own life are the proof of my words, ultimate proof of Jesus is His death and resurrection, that’s why he said anyone who believes in me will live forever and my flesh is your food and my blood is your drink take it, believe it and that’s how finally he dies on the cross.

His death and resurrection is the final proof that he is the messiah sent by God to redeem mankind and that is the belief of the New Testament till today. What is the relationship between the written Word and the living tradition of the Christians? Actually Jesus did not write the Bible. He himself is the Word, he himself lived the Word. He himself spoke to the people and his disciples are given a beautiful command – people will come to know that you are my disciples if you love each other. Therefore a living community is ultimately a proof of the bible a living community, community of love and communion and that’s why even today for us the most important credentials of Christian life communion is. That’s why we celebrate every day Eucharist live together, bonded in love, in justice and truth, caring for each other, sharing with each other showing our concern for each other, forgiving each other and this is the touch stone of Christian life and therefore then what is written Bible. It comes much later.

When Jesus was speaking nobody had microphone or a recorder, there was no one to write down immediately in the laptop and there was no photographer to take his pictures but his listener assimilated his words lived, ate and spoke with him, they touched him and they continued his message through the Eucharistic celebration of love in memory of his death and resurrection and that’s how it continued when we read the acts of the apostles. Disciples lived the messages of Jesus and that by living the messages of Jesus, the disciples were spread. In the beginning years so to say they were tortured.Wherever the Christians went the authorities tortured them that are why we have the early Christian martyrs. They did not like a new religion, Jewish and Greek people did not like. Read Acts when Paul goes to Corinth he meets people they were worshipping an unknown God. They had built a temple in Athens to the unknown God. Paul goes around that temple and some Athenians, called philosophers, sophists gathered around him. Paul laughed at them for dedicating a temple to the unknown God.

He preached of a God who is known, this unknown God is now revealed in Jesus Christ, whom I know and they got curious about it and invited him to speak. Paul started speaking about a God who is now revealed as known in Jesus Christ, dead and resurrected and lot of Athenian started believing Him. That’s how the messages of Jesus Christ was communicated and lived. And as days, months an years went on different communities were established in Jerusalem, in Rome, in Athens, in Corinth, in Philippi in certain areas of Greece today’s Iraq, Iran and Turkey. Antioch for instance, therefore as the time went on and the communities felt the need of writing down at least certain things about Jesus and that’s how we find Matthew written Gospel. Matthew was definitely an educated man. He did not go on writing down when Jesus was speaking Luke and Mark were not direct disciples of Jesus they were rather disciples of the disciples of Jesus.

John definitely a great man, apostle but he started writing the Gospel much later sometime they say around nineties.That’s after many years of Christian living life. Therefore in one way the written Gospel is after the lived gospel. You are my disciples by loving each other and that’s the community. So the basic message of the Gospel, the Good News is Jesus himself. He himself is the messiah, you love each other my blood, my body is with your everyday live a life of communion, a life of sharing, life of compassion by that way people will know about you and the written Bible in a way is a great gift for the prosperity written by the early Christians and we have got Matthew, Mark, Luke and John they were accepted as great Christian community members of course the letters written by St. Paul, St.John, St. Peter, St. James and the Book of Revelation and the letter to the Hebrews and the acts of the apostles are great New Testament books but they are all products of a living community

.So today when we are talking about the New Testament books, they are heritage of a lived, living Christian community. So community and its life is first and these document are a heritage of a lived community. Therefore this is the way we need to understand. Therefore Bible in a way is not just a dead book but a proof of a living community. Were need to read the Bible to remember how the early Christians lived, how Jesus taught them to live and we have to live that Bible today and so finally I want to say of the attitude one should have while reading the Bible.

. It is the attitude of simple faith and love. Because if I want to listen to a person I have to have certain listening ears and heart, if I a already prejudiced about the person who is going to talk to me then my way of listening will be colored. I will not be able to understand exactly what he talks to me. I am not just listening to a person as a person but it will be a mechanical thing. It is not like listening to a tape recorder, I am listening to a person just reading may stimulate you but what is necessary is that you listen to God as a person Jesus who is a person, a personal compassion, a personal heart, listening ear. Therefore attitude of faith and attitude of love for God is very fundamental if you want to read the Bible and understand it. Understanding is not for a professional talk of course we have got experts, theologians, philosophers, great men to read Bible and analyze it historically, analytically, hermitically etc. but much more than that let me read the mind of my Father, God who loves me what does He want to talk to me today, in my day today life so that I may know Him more and more, that I may love Him more and more intimately, that I may follow Him more and more closely.

By Rev.Fr.V.Ignatius S.J