"Read the Bible?"
By Orlando Fedeli
Each religion is known by its most characteristic ritual. Thus, the Mass is for the Catholicism the essential act of cult to God. Spiritists have as their typical action the invocation of spirits, in order to learn something from beyond (i.e. necromancy), and protestants of all sorts are known by their insistence in the Bible, which they read and insistently recommend to others, as if by reading It one would find salvation.
The assumption of those protestants – nowadays, to hide the divisions inside Protestantism, they omit initially the name of their sect, calling themselves generically and vaguely as “evangelic” – is that everyone, no matter how ignorant, can fruitfully read the Scriptures because the Holy Spirit Himself would inspire people to grasp the right sense of what is written. By this reasoning, the Bible would be easier understood than a mediocre newsstand novel or a comics. Moreover, anyone could give any interpretation one wished or judged to have understood from the sacred text. The Holy Scripture would not have an objectively correct meaning. All the interpretations would be right, even if they were contradictory to one another. This is what is called “free interpretation of the Bible”, principle proclaimed by Luther to destroy the Pope’s power.
The result of this free interpretation of the Holy Scriptures was an almost endless(infinite) multiplication of sects. Such a system built in a great (true) biblical Babel. Nowadays, there are millions of “evangelic” sects, every one of them offering a different interpretation of the sacred text, and all of them proclaiming themselves to be right.
At heart, every protestant is a “church”, so there cannot be a church of Christ. Protestantism rises against the Pope’s infallible power, and to fight it, proclaims every “believer’s” infallibility.
Every single person should read the Bible, and each one should have a different understanding of the Holy Scriptures, denying, by doing so, the existence of one objective true meaning meant by God in those words. Thereby, it is denied that there is “only one faith”. God would have created the Bible as an “Open Book”: it would have millions of possible senses, all of them likely to be true, but none of them exclusively true and unique.
Hence the protestant slogan: “Read the Bible”.
Now, it is curious that in the Bible itself there is no text which says: “Read the Bible”. It is very quite obvious, for no one can bear witness of oneself (?) (Jo V, 31). Neither in the Ten Commandments, given by God to Moses, nor in the words of Christ the advice that Christians should read the Bible is to be found.
How come does this omission happen? Where do, therefore, protestants of all sorts take this law or advice from, that everyone should read the Holy Scriptures?
If reading the Bible was mandatory to our salvation, Our Lord Jesus Christ would certainly have told the apostles to read, and would have ordered everybody to read it. Christ would also have ordered people to distribute Bibles to everyone. That being so, the order would have been: ’Go and print out’, instead of saying “go and preach to all people” (Mt. XXVIII, 19). He did not say: “Read the Bible”, neither “Distribute Bibles to all people”. Nor did he assert: “Advice everyone to read the Bible”.
Why has he not ever said that? Obviously, books – even the holy ones – are meant to be read. Thus, God made the Holy Scriptures to be read. But read by whom? Everyone?
Of course not. If not everyone is competent enough to read common books, much less are able to read specialized and scientific books, and even less can understand the books of the Holy Scriptures, that are much deeper. An unprepared reader, or someone with no convenient knowledge, will either not understand the text, or misunderstand it, get at an even worse state than that one of ignorance. Because not knowing it is not as bad as misunderstanding it. For this reason, God said in the Book of Proverbs: “As if a thorn should grow in the hand of a drunkard: so is a parable in the mouth of fools.” (Prov. XXVI, 9).
Thus should only a few people read the holy books? Who are they? Who would have the mission to read the Scriptures and teach it to the wise and to the humble minds? Before answering these questions, for a didactic purpose, let us see some quotations that would help us understand the answer.
2) The word of God claims for elucidation, because "the letter killeth"
From the words of the Book of Proverbs, which we quoted above, we learn that God "conceal" his words. To “conceal” comes from the Latin term "cela", which means “to occult”, “to veil”. Therefore, God occults, veils his words. Now then, if God aims to save us by means of the Revelation, why occulting, hiding exactly what He wants to communicate to us?
That seems to be a contradictory point, for what ought to be revealed must not be concealed. However, God has, in one way, covered his words under a veil, involving them in mystery.
The Apostles were also intrigued by the fact that Jesus only talked to the people through parables and comparisons, when they asked the Divine Master: “Why speakest thou to them in parables? Who answered and said to them: Because to you is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven: but to them it is not given (...) Therefore do I speak to them in parables: because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do them understand" (Mt. XIII, 10 and 13).
Christ, Our Lord and Our Redeemer, shows us that although God’s word must, in (by) principle be communicated to all, it must not be communicated at any time. In fact, some people, due to their sins and hardness of heart, must not receive it unless they are concealed, through parables, so they will not profane it, nor will it be the cause of growth of their guilt. That is why Jesus also said to us: "Give not that which is holy to dogs; neither cast ye your pearls before swine"(Mt. VII, 2).
So, there are people whom, because of their sins, are in such a way reduced to that state, that revelation, instead of making them some good, will be an occasion for new blames. For these cases – where it is expected disdain about the things God revealed rather than defer to His teachings – communicating the holy things should sometimes be avoided. Therefore it is not convenient to talk about the things of God to anyone at anytime, nor to handle them the Holy Scriptures, when the chances are that they will debauch of it or distort it. When it is presumed that this is the most probable thing to happen, the precious pearl must be saved, rather than cast to the swine. Or still, one should at least wait a little longer for the right occasion to speak. Because… "A time to keep silence, and a time to speak" (Ecles. III, 7).
Due to these reasons the Wisdom of God, in several occasions, covers His words. And the glory of the authorized masters consists in examining God’s speech through the exegesis of His parables. Christ Himself gave us an example of the means through which this kind of investigation must be performed, when He explained the parable of the Seeder to the Apostles (Mt. XIII, 18-23).
Therefore, the Holy Scripture was given to be read especially by those who have authority or wisdom, who, in their turn, have to teach it to the humble, who have to listen to it.
That is why it is written in the Ecclesiastic: "The wise man will seek out the wisdom of all the ancients, and will be occupied in the prophets. He will keep the sayings of renowned men, and will enter withal into the subtilties of parables" (Sir. XXXIX, 1-3).
So it is not meant for beginners to do it, not for them...Because God said: "Upon the judges' seat they [the workers, those who perform handworks] shall not sit, and the ordinance of judgment they shall not understand, neither shall they declare discipline and judgment, and they shall not be found where parables are spoken" (Sir. XXXVIII,38).
To the protestants – forever equalitarian – all men are wise enough to read and, mainly, to interpret the Scripture, opposing, thus, against what is written in the Holy Scripture. Though Jeremy contests them saying: "How do you say: We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us? Indeed the lying pens of the scribes hath wrought falsehood. The wise men are confounded, they are dismayed, and taken: for they have cast away the word of the Lord, and there is no wisdom in them" (Jer. VIII, 8).
We will get back to this mysterious verse about the lying pens of the scribes that have written falsehood…
We have said that the exam of God’s word requires a certain wisdom and a certain authority, and the same is said by St. Paul, when he advises that "the letter killeth": "Who also hath made us fit ministers of the new testament, not in the letter but in the spirit. For the letter killeth: but the spirit quickeneth"(II Cor. III , 6).
Therefore, it is the Bible by Its own that advises us that "the letter killeth".
Nevertheless, the protestants read this word but still trust in the letter.
Disregarding that "the letter killeth", those self-denominated "evangelic” " leave out another text of St. Paul, who teaches: "For Isaias saith: ‘Who hath believed our report?’ (Is. LIII, 1 and LII, 7). Faith then cometh by hearing; and hearing by the word of Christ" (Rom.X, 16-17).
St. Paul deduces from the terms applied by Isaias – Saith and Report – that Faith comes by hearing and not by reading, despite the fact that Isaias had written his words, instead of saying or pronouncing them. The Book of Isaias should be heard by the Jewish people, that is to say, explained by a competent and qualified man, rather than simply be read by all.
This explanation is confirmed in another passage of the Holy Scriptures, referring exactly to the lecture of Isaias’, in the Act of Apostles, when deacon Phillip is send by God to meet and speak to the Queen of Candace’s eunuch who, while traveling, was reading the Holy Scriptures: "And Philip running thither, heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. And he said: Thinkest thou that thou understandest what thou readest? Who said: And how can I [comprehend], unless some man shew me?" (At. VIII, 30-31).
Therefore, the Bible itself tells us that it is not possible to understand it unless someone explains it!
The principle of the true Religion is in God’s Verb, that is to say, in God’s Word: "In princípio erat Verbum” (“In the beginning was the Word”) (Jo I, 1). If in the divine plan the principle is in the Verb, in the human plan, the principle of Faith is through the ears, because: "Faith then cometh by hearing" (Rom. X, 16), and not through the eyes which read. Through the eyes comes the letter that kills (II Cor. III, 6).
For all these reasons, Christ Our Lord has not ordered people to read the Bible but to hear what He has revealed in it, for he repeated five times, in the Sermon on the Mount, the verb to hear instead of the verb to read: "You have heard that it was said to them of old: ‘Thou shalt not kill...’“ (Mt.5, 21).
Now, it was not said to them of old. It was written.
In spite of that, Jesus Christ, referring to the Book of Moses, says to the people: "you have heard" rather than "you have read". And He says "you have heard" because the Jewish people usually heard the readings of the Scriptures in the synagogue, where it was read by the Masters: Rabbis and Doctors of the Law.
For five times, in the Sermon of the Mount, Christ employs the expression "you have heard that it was said to them of old" rather than "you have read", although he was making reference to a written text (Mt. V, 21, 27, 33, 38 and 43). Such an insistence in the use of the verb to hear instead of the verb to read is significant. We must hear, more than read God’s Word, because Faith comes by hearing, while the letter kills. It is a matter for the capable and authorized masters to read and explain what is written to the people. And that was the example left by Christ who, when inside the synagogue, took the Roll of the Scriptures, read a passage and explained it to the people, who heard, and did not read: "And he came to Nazareth, where he was brought up and he went into the synagogue, according to his custom, on the Sabbath day: and he rose up to read. And the book of Isaias the prophet was delivered unto him…” (Lk IV, 16-17).
The Jewish custom was to listen to the reading and the explanation of the Scriptures in the synagogue, on Saturdays.
Repeatedly, in the Holy Scriptures, Our Lord says we ought to hear God’s words. He practically does not use the verb to read. Only once, in the Apocalypse, the verb to read is used, but immediately followed by the verb to hear: “Blessed is he that readeth and heareth the words of this prophecy: and keepeth those things which are written in it. For the time is at hand” (Apoc. I, 3).
And why should the verb “ to read” be used specifically in the Apocalypse?
We judge that, being the Apocalypse a prophetical book, the most mysteriously in the Holy Scriptures, Christ uses the verb to read immediately followed by to hear, because it would be extremely hard to grasp and meditate the words of this Book only by hearing them.
Christ also adds the verb to keep to the verb to read, because it is not enough to read and hear if you do not keep it; in other words, if you do not practice what you have read and listened. This exceptional use of the verb to read in the Holy Scriptures does not change, however, the general rule regarding the importance and uniqueness of the verb to hear.
Besides, to confirm what we have just said above, note that the verb to hear appears systematically at the end of each letter of the Apocalypse. Seven times the original formula: “He that hath an ear let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches” (Apoc. II, 7; II, 11; II, 17; II, 29; III, 6; III, 11; III, 22).
Even thought it is tiresome to multiply the quotations, it is necessary to repeat them to the Protestants, because they are not understanding people, for whom few words suffice. We are dealing with bad readers, for whom even many words do not suffice
Let us take a look then, at our first quotation from the Gospels: “I say unto you that he who heareth my word and believeth him that sent me hath life everlasting” (Jo V, 24).
Note that those who hear have the eternal life, and not those who read. Because reading is useless, unless someone explains it (cfr. At VIII, 30-31).
Moreover, “Every one therefore that heareth these my words, and doth them, shall be likened to a wise man that built his house upon a rock” (Mt. VII, 24).
Watch here three things:
1) The use of the verb to hear instead of the verb to read, which would be the preferred choice for Protestants;2) Only hearing is not enough. One has to observe the words of God. It is also necessary to do according to the words of God. Thus, Faith is not enough, there ought to have works, through which one practices the words of God.3) Those who hear and observe the words of Christ, cleverly build their house “upon the rock”, that is to say, upon Peter.Christ did not compel the Apostles: “Go, print out Bibles and distribute them”, neither said he: “He that readeth you readeth me”, but “He that heareth you heareth me” (Lc. X, 16).
You shall not think that the Old Testament was any different, because in the Book of Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) the following rule can be found: “Qui audit me, non confundetur” (“He that hearkeneth to me, shall not be confounded”) (Sir. XXIV, 30).
The same book confirms what we have already mentioned: “If thou wilt incline thy ear, thou shalt receive instruction: and if thou love to hear, thou shalt be wise” (Sir. VI, 34).
One can conclude, therefore, that it is also through the ear – and not through the eyesight or by reading letters – that wisdom is acquired. Because if Faith comes through the ear, how could Wisdom come through the eyesight and reading?
And how could it be otherwise, if Our Lord is the same Wisdom made flesh?
Protestants like to refer to the text where Christ talks about “His brothers”, that is, about His relatives, saying: “My mother and my brethren are they who hear the word of God and do it” (Lk VIII, 21); and they interpret literally the word “brethren” in this text, asserting that Christ had, thus, brothers in flesh. They should also take into the same literal interpretation the rest of the phrase, and conclude that they (the Protestants) are not “brothers” of Jesus, because they do not hear, but read His words.
In another occasion said Our Lord: “Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.” (Lc. XI,28).
When saying the parable of the Seeder, Christ solemnly concludes: “And he said: He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Mc. IV, 9).
Besides, in this parable of the Seeder, in the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, Christ uses the verb to hear five times, and never the verb to read. If He wanted us to do what the Protestant do with the Bible, He could easily use, at least once, the verb to read. He did not, so that we – exactly – do not fall into the same error Luther fell, asserting that reading the Bible is mandatory for those who want to be saved. (cfr. Mt. XIII, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23).
Repeatedly, Christ advises the Jews and ourselves, saying: “If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mk. IV, 23).
Saint Paul also prefers the verb to hear to the verb to read – and could Saint Paul’s preferences be different from Christ’s? – for he says in the First Epistle to Timothy: “… in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee” (I Tim. IV, 16).
Now, Saint John tells us: “He that knoweth God heareth us. He that is not of God heareth us not. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (I Jo. IV, 6).
It’s clearest indeed. In order to distinguish those who seek the true from those who seek the error, here is the rule: those who have the spirit of error do not want to hear! But the Protestant just wants to read.
God demanded Jeremias, the Prophet, to claim: “Declare ye this to the house of Jacob, and publish it in Juda, saying: Hear, O foolish people, and without understanding: who have eyes, and see not: and ears, and hear not” (Jer. V, 20-21). This is so perfectly applicable to the heretics that it seems to be said directly for those self-denominated “evangelic ”, those who read without understanding, and refuse to hear.
The Book of Job brings about the same doctrine: “Lo, these things are said in part of his ways: and seeing we have heard scarce a little drop of his word, who shall be able to behold the thunder of his greatness?” (Job. XXVI, 14).
If the works of Creation are to us nowadays like a whisper of God’s voice, He speaks to us through them – whisper, because during the material creation we only saw traces of God, and through them we see God far away – how could we understand by ourselves – without further guidance from an authority placed by Christ, Peter, he who has the keys to heaven – how could we understand the thunder of God’s voice in the Holy Scripture?
We have seen that the verb read is exceptionally found in the Holly Scripture along with a laudatory recommendation in the Apocalypse (I, 3). But even there this verb is immediately followed by the verbs listen and keep.
Moreover, in the other passages the verb read is always followed by some restrictive note.
In a very eye-catching passage in the Acts of the Apostles (VIII, 30 – 31) we have seen that it is not worth to read, if there is no one to explain the text.
And when the Magi kings went before Herod to ask him where the King of the Jews was born, he inquired the Chief Priests and the Scribes about the question. They told him that “It was written” (Mt, II, 5) that it would be in Bethlehem. The Chief priests and the Scribes knew very well what was written: That it was in Bethlehem that the Messiah would be born. But they did not worry to go there. The wise men, who did not read, went to worship the Savior in Bethlehem. The scribes did not go there because there is no use in reading without comprehending.
When Christ-God victoriously rode into Jerusalem, the children have acclaimed Him. It has unpleased the Pharisees, who ordered Him to shut them up. And reprehending them, Christ then said: “Yea, have you never read: Out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings thou hast perfected praise?”(Mt. XXI, 16).
With these words Christ has showed them that, although they had read the Sacred Scripture, it had no use for them, since they did not incline their ear to the Wisdom.
Saint Paul, reprehending the Galatians for embracing the practices of the Jewish law, told them: “Tell me, you that desire to be under the law, have you not read the law?” (Gal. IV, 21). And next he demonstrates to them that they have not understood the Scriptures.
The criticism to those who misunderstand the Scripture is repeated several times in the Gospels, always through using the expression “Have you not read”.
Thus, Saint Matthew tells us that Jesus, answering to the Pharisees, who criticized Jesus’ disciples for having plucked some ears of corn on a Sabbath day – which was forbidden by the letter of the law – said to them: “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and they that were with him?” (Mt. XII, 3). “Or have ye not read in the law, that on the Sabbath days the priests in the temple break the Sabbath, and are without blame?” (Mt. XII, 5).
Contradicting the Pharisees’ reading about one’s right to put away one’s wife, Christ told them: “Have ye not read, that he who made man from the beginning, made them male and female...” (Mt. XIX, 4).
“Jesus saith to them: Have you never read in the Scriptures: The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner...” (Mt. XXI, 42).
In all these texts, the verb to read is used against the Pharisees, showing that reading the Bible was not cause of merit for them, but of increase of their guilt.
Thus, just read the Bible is not enough.
When Christ referred to the prophecy of Daniel that one day the “abomination of desolation” would be “standing in the holy place”, He have prevented: “he that readeth let him understand” (Mt. XXIV, 15). Using “understand” immediately after the verb to read shows that it is useless to read without understanding. How many people, today, who do not understand even a simple newspaper article, intend to understand the Holy Scripture! If they read badly, they understand even worse! In another occasion, when a Doctor of the Law came to see Jesus about what he should do to possess eternal life, Christ asked him: “What is written in the law? How readest thou?” (Lk X, 26).
The question “how readest thou?” shows that reading depends on understanding. Therefore, simply reading the Bible is not enough. In order to reach eternal life two things are necessary: to comprehend the Revelation and to do what God demands from us, according to what was comprehended. Therefore, merely reading is of no use.
The Sadducees and the Pharisees – like the Protestants today – used to read the scriptures and that was not enough for them. On the contrary, that increased their guilt.
To the Sadducees who inquired Christ about resurrection, quoting the text of the sororate law, he said: “You err, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Mt XXII, 29).
Next, said Jesus to these same Sadducees: “And concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken by God, saying to you: I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” (Mt XXII, 31-32)
As the text is in the sacred book, Christ should have said that God had written. Instead, He uses the verbs to say and to speak and not to write. Again, it’s clear that just reading is useless: you have to understand it well.
The great readers of the Bible in the time of Jesus were the Pharisees. Like the Protestants of today, they were capable of quoting chapters and verses of the sacred books that they knew by heart, never really understanding what they have memorized. It was the Pharisees, readers of the Bible, who did not see the light and killed the Son of God. Before the light of truth, they did not see the light. They were “blind at midday” (Deut XXVIII,29). For that, Jesus called them “blind” (Mt XV, 14) and “blind guides” (Mt XXIII, 16).
It was about the Pharisees, readers and masters of the Bible, that Isaias prophesized, saying: “Hear, ye deaf, and, ye blind, behold that you may see. Who is blind, but my servant (Israel)? or deaf, but he to whom I have sent my messengers? Who is blind, but he that is sold? or who is blind, but the servant of the Lord? Thou that seest many things, wilt thou not observe them? Thou that hast ears open, wilt thou not hear?” (Is. XLII, 18-20). Notice that in this passage, God does not reprehend the Jews for not reading the Bible, because they read. The problem is that they did not understand. They were blind readers, like many others today: “Foolish and blind” (Mt XXIII, 17).
As a punishment for the pride of the Jews when reading the sacred books, not willing to listen to the word of God, the same Sacred Scripture says: “For the Lord hath mingled for you the spirit of a deep sleep, he will shut up your eyes, he will cover your prophets and princes, that see visions. And the vision of all shall be unto you as the words of a book that is sealed which when they shall deliver to one that is learned, they shall say: read this: and he shall answer: I cannot, for it is sealed. And the book shall be given to one that knoweth no letters, and it shall be said to him: read: and he shall answer: I know no letters.” (Is. XXIX,10-12).
From this text we deduce that it is useless to wish to read a sealed book. Well, the Scripture is a sealed book, and its keys were given to Peter. One that does not have the keys cannot open this book. And whoever intends to know how to read it not having the keys nor knowing how to read, is doing so with the veil of sleepiness and illusion over his eyes.
A man who knows how to read must have the humility of not intending to do it unless he has authorization and approval of that who owns the keys. One should only read the Bible in a spirit of humility, accepting what the Pope has bind and unbind with respect to the sacred text.
The Pharisees - like the Protestants today – were some of these pretentious people that judged to know how to read, and for that God punished them with the blindness of their own pride, because they gave importance to the letter of the Scripture, letter which kills, judging that the salvation was by reading. For that, Our Lord Jesus Christ warned them, arguing against them: “Search the scriptures: for you think in them to have life everlasting. And the same are they that give testimony of me. And you will not come to me that you may have life.(…) There is one that accuseth you, Moses, in whom you trust. For if you did believe Moses, you would perhaps believe me also: for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (Jo V, 39-40 and 45-47).
These sentences from Jesus Christ are extremely important for the subject we are analyzing, and we have underlined the decisive words.
First, Christ argued against the Pharisees saying that they believed – like the Protestants today – that from the Scriptures they would find eternal life. Well, the eternal life is only obtained from Christ, and not from the “letter that kills” (2 Cor III,6). It is not by reading the Bible that we reach eternal life.
Second, notice that Christ, arguing ad hominem, says: as you, Pharisees, say you believe in the Scriptures, examine them and you will see that they speak of Me.
Finally, notice that Christ says that the Pharisees trusted in Moses, but didn’t give credit to his writings.
Therefore, it is possible to read the Scriptures not believing in it. For it is just like this that the Protestants of yesterday and today do: they say they trust in the Bible, but they refuse to believe in what it teaches.
To force the Sacred Scripture to agree with them, the Pharisees distorted what it says, accusing Christ of breaking the Law. Afterwards, the first heretics did the same; and they still do it today and will do it in the future. That is why Saint Peter wrote about those who read the Bible forcing wrong interpretations: “ As also in all his [St. Paul’s] epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction.”(2Pt III,16).
That the Jewish Rabbis read the Scriptures in the Synagogues and did not understand it, because they did not give credit to their meaning but only to the letter, it is registered in several passages of the Bible: “For they that inhabited Jerusalem and the rulers thereof, not knowing him [Christ], nor the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath, judging him, have fulfilled them” (Act XIII, 27).
So, the Jewish Rabbis read the Scriptures but did not understand them, because they did not recognize Christ, the Redeemer. Even Moses, who the Rabbis claimed to follow, and whose texts they read carefully, even counting the letters – the letters that kill – prophesized about them saying: “Behold the children of Israel do not hearken to me” (Ex. VI, 12).
This is confirmed in another passage which says almost the same thing: “For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him in the synagogues, where he is read every sabbath” (Act XV, 21). He was read but not believed. What was the use for the Rabbis and the Jews to read the Bible in their Synagogues? What is the use for heretics to readthe letters of the Scripture if they do not understand them, and for this they die, killed by the letter?
The Sacred Scriptures were read by lawful authorities, many times established directly by God, to whom people should listen, accepting what was read and explained. This can be confirmed by innumerous texts from the Bible. We will quote some of them, with the risk of getting monotonous.
First of all, it was reserved to the priest and the elder to read the law and teach it to the people, who should hear, and not read: “And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it to the priests the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the old men of Israel. And he commanded them, saying: “After seven years, in the year of remission, in the feast of tabernacles, when all Israel come together, to appear in the sight of the Lord thy God in the place which the Lord shall choose, thou shalt read the words of this law before all Israel, in their hearing. And the people being all assembled together, both men and women, children and strangers, that are within thy gates: that HEARING they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and keep, and fulfil all the words of this law: That their children also, who now are ignorant, may HEAR, and fear the Lord their God, all the days that they live in the land whither you are going over the Jordan to possess it.” (DEUT XXXI, 9-13).
The passage is extremely clear. It is not the people who must read. The common people must hear. It goes against the desire of the Protestant heretics, who want to read by themselves, although they are not wise nor capable of reading.
In the same book of Deuteronomy, there is another passage which gives the right and also obligates the King to read the scriptures: “But after he [the King] is raised to the throne of his kingdom, he shall copy out to himself the Deuteronomy of this law in a volume, taking the copy of the priests of the Levitical tribe, And he shall have it with him, and shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, and keep his words and ceremonies, that are commanded in the law” (Deut. XVII, 18-19).
The king – and not anyone – had the right and obligation to read the law, after the priest had brought it to him.
In the Exodus, Moses did the same thing: he read the law for the people, who heard: “And taking the book of the covenant, he [Moses] read it in the hearing of the people: and they said: All things that the Lord hath spoken [and did not write], we will do, we will be obedient” (Ex. XXIV, 7).
Josue, when got authority over the people, followed the same custom: he read the law. And the people heard it: “And first he blessed the people of Israel. After this, he read all the words of the blessing and the cursing, and all things that were written in the book of the law.” (Jos. VIII, 33-34). Josue read it because he was the apt authority. People just heard it.
When the Book of Law was found, in the times of the King Josiah, he gathered together the people in the House of the Lord, “and went up to the house of the Lord, and all the men of Juda, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests and the Levites, and all the people from the least to the greatest. And the king read in their hearing, in the house of the Lord, all the words of the book.” (II Par XXXIV, 30).
It is verified that the custom in which it was a right and an obligation for kings and clergymen to read the law to the people, that heard, is a custom kept throughout the centuries. Esdras did it as well: “Then Esdras the priest brought the law before the multitude of men and women, and all those that could understand, in the first day of the seventh month. And he read it plainly in the street that was before the water gate, from the morning until midday, before the men, and the women, and all those that could understand: and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book.” (II Esd. VIII, 2-3).
In the Ecclesiasticus (Sirach’s Wisdom), one can find the following teaching: “Humble thy heart, and endure: incline thy ear, and receive the words of understanding: and make not haste in the time of clouds.” (Sir. II, 2). And more: “If thou wilt incline thy ear, thou shalt receive instruction: and if thou love to hear, thou shalt be wise” (Sir VI 34). What’s more: “I bowed down my ear a little, and received her [the wisdom]” (Sir LI 21).
Therefore, it is not merely by reading the Scriptures that one becomes wise.
Isaiah does not teach otherwise: “The Lord hath given me a learned tongue, that I should know how to uphold by word him that is weary: he wakeneth in the morning, in the morning he wakeneth my ear, that I may hear him as a master. The Lord God hath opened my ear, and I do not resist: I have not gone back.” (Is. L, 4-5). “Hearken diligently to me, and eat that which is good, and your soul shall be delighted in fatness. Incline your ear and come to me: hear and your soul shall live, and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, the faithful mercies of David.” (Is. LV, 2-3).
Let us repeat: it is not said “read and your soul shall live”, but “hear and your soul shall live”.
God said to the prophet Jeremiah: “Go, and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying” (Jer II, 2). God did not order Jeremiah to tell the people to read the prophecy, nor to put before their eyes the letter that kills, but He ordered him to cry His Word in the ears of the people. For this reason, Jeremiah advises: “Hear ye the word of the Lord” (Jer II, 4).
And in another passage, God restates to the prophet “And the Lord said to me: Proclaim aloud all these words in the cities of Juda, and in the streets of Jerusalem, saying: Hear ye the words of the covenant, and do them (…) Hearken ye to my voice: And they obeyed not, nor inclined their ear: but walked every one in the perverseness of his own wicked heart (…) And the Lord said to me: A conspiracy is found among the men of Juda, and among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They are returned to the former iniquities of their fathers, who refused to hear my words” (Jer XI, 6-10).
And what is more: “But they did not hear, nor incline their ear: but hardened their neck, that they might not hear me, and might not receive instruction. And it shall come to pass: if you will hearken to me, …” (Jer XVII, 23-24) “…and your fathers did not hearken to me, nor did they incline their ear.” (Jer XXXIV 14) “But they heard not, nor inclined their ear to turn from their evil ways, and not to sacrifice to strange gods.” (Jer XLIV, 5)
In the Acts of the Apostles it is said: “Go to this people and say to them: With the ear you shall hear and shall not understand: and seeing you shall see and shall not perceive. For the heart of this people is grown gross, and with their ears have they heard heavily and their eyes they have shut, lest perhaps they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and should be converted: and I should heal them” (Acts XXVIII, 26-28).
How can a protestant read that “the ear of the wise seeketh instruction” (Prov XVIII, 15), and ignore it by just keeping on reading?
And how can he keep on just reading, if it is says that “a good ear will hear Wisdom” (Sir. III, 31), and not “read” the wisdom?
They will say: “We do not accept these books as inspired by God”. They will confess, then, that they are the ones who determine what is inspired and what is not; that it is their own opinions that must be taken into account, and not what the Church teaches.
Even so, why do they not understand that the Psalms, which they accept as inspired, teach the precisely the same doctrine? In the psalms one can find this words: “Hearken, O daughter, and see, and incline thy ear” (Sl. XLIV, 11).
And more: “Hear these things, all ye nations: give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world” (Sl. XLVIII, 2). “My mouth shall speak wisdom: and the meditation of my heart understanding. I will incline my ear to a parable...” (Sl. XLVIII, 4-5).
Also, in the psalm LXXVII, v.1 the same lesson is repeated: “Attend, [it is not said read] O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth”. The law was written; however, God orders not to read, but to hear.
It is tiresome to repeat so many times the very same thing, but stubbornness demands repetition. That is why God also insisted so much in the use of the verb to hear and not in the verb to read.
Once demonstrated that the Psalms teach the very same thing as the Proverbs, we will quote one more passage from this book: “My son, hearken to my words, and incline thy ear to my sayings” (Prov. IV, 20). “Incline thy ear, and hear the words of the wise: and apply thy heart to my doctrine” (Prov. XXII, 17).
And once more: “My son, attend to my wisdom, and incline thy ear to my prudence” (Prov. V, 1). The teaching is constant and invariable: one must hear. The repeated teaching is not that one must read. Only protestants insist in not hearing. They only think that they know how to read, and that they must read. That everybody knows how to read, and that they all must read. And they demand people to read, but not to hear. Their recommendation is, therefore, against God's.
To the wise and inspired words that we reproduced so far, a protestant might answer: “And have not [I] heard the voice of them that taught me, and have not [I] inclined my ear to masters?” (Prov. V, 13). Our Lord Jesus Christ prevents them, with the words in the Gospel of Saint John, that it is His disciples the ones who hear the voice of the shepherd, from the one who was put by the doorkeeper, for nobody can give himself the title of shepherd. One must and can only receive it from the doorkeeper. And the doorkeeper has to have the keys to the door, in order to open and close it. And the keys were given to Peter. Therefore, he who does not recognize the voice of the shepherd authorized by the doorkeeper cannot save himself: “But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth: and the sheep hear his voice. And he calleth his own sheep by name and leadeth them out” (Jo. X, 2-3).
Countless other texts could be quoted, all confirming the same teaching: not everyone must read the Holy Scripture. We are all obliged to hear what God taught us through it. And who has God put in charge to teach the Revelation? Christ gave Peter the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven (Cfr. Mt. XVI, 13-20). It is, thus, the Pope, the successor of Peter, who has the function of teaching what is contained in the Revelation.
That is what Pope Leo XIII says, in the encyclical Providentissimus Deus: “it must be observed that in addition to the usual reasons which make ancient writings more or less difficult to understand, there are some which are peculiar to the Bible. For the language of the Bible is employed to express, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, many things which are beyond the power and scope of the reason of man – that is to say, divine mysteries and all that is related to them. There is sometimes in such passages a fullness and a hidden depth of meaning which the letter hardly expresses and which the laws of interpretation hardly warrant. Moreover, the literal sense itself frequently admits other senses, adapted to illustrate dogma or to confirm morality. Wherefore it must be recognized that the sacred writings are wrapt in a certain religious obscurity, and that no one can enter into their interior without a guide; God so disposing, as the Holy Fathers commonly teach, in order that men may investigate them with greater ardor and earnestness, and that what is attained with difficulty may sink more deeply into the mind and heart; and, most of all, that they may understand that God has delivered the Holy Scriptures to the Church, and that in reading and making use of His Word, they must follow the Church as their guide and their teacher.”
The need of having a Guide and a Teacher to understand the Holy Scripture originates, then, from God's own way of composing it.
And why did not God make all men capable of reading and understanding the Holy Scripture without the need of another man as a teacher or guide? Why does God want man to learn from the mouth of another man and to receive Faith by the ear? Could God not do as the protestants think He did, inspiring each one to read the Holy Scripture and giving the reader the comprehension of its objective meaning by direct divine inspiration?
God did not act like this because He wants to save men through other men. That is why He chose the Apostles and Disciples and ordered them: “Going therefore, teach ye all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost” (Mat. XXVIII, 19).
God wanted that some men were the means of salvation to others so that men could love each other mutually, since teaching the truth to a man is practicing an act of very high love for him.
The protestant position, that does not admit any man to be an intermediary as a means of teaching the truth, is against what the Bible itself reveals, which shows us that God assigned some to teach others, and that Faith comes by hearing. The refusal of having any master whosoever is the sign of a great pride. It is an attitude so contrary to reality that the very same people that do not admit one man to teach another go door by door teaching others that they must read the Bible. And, then, they read in the Bible that “the letter killeth” (II Cor. III, 6).
4) Meaning of the words and of the Holy Scripture
The protestants also err when they suppose they can, by themselves, to comprehend the many meanings of the Holy Scripture. Before any analysis of these meanings, however, it would be necessary to point a preliminary problem: which books belong to the Bible? The Jews had many other religious books that, after all, where not considered inspired by God and, for that, never belonged to the list of the books of the Holy Scripture. They were called apocryphal books. Also, after the resurrection of Christ and His Ascension to Heaven, many apocryphal books appeared that were not considered inspired nor included in the list of books of the New Testament.
Who has judged which books belonged to the part of texts inspired by God? This is a fundamental question. Faith depends on its solution. Among the ancient Jews, it was the tradition which established the criteria of inspiration. In the New Testament, the Tradition and the Church were those that determined which books were inspired by God and that should belong to the canon of the Holy Scripture.
Having the knowledge of which books belong to the Bible, there is still the need to deal with other problems of interpretation.
Types of words
We do not intend to do, in this simple article, an exhaustive exposition of exegesis. We aim only to point certain problems that exist in the reading of the Bible. Because of this, we will stick only to allude some of the more important points of biblical exegesis.
The human words are of three different types.
Some words have only one meaning: they are univocal words. Example: flour, wheat, farm. A second type of words are those which have many different meanings, without any relation among them: they are equivocal words. Example: Tie, might refer to some stalemate in a game or to the piece of cloth around our neck. There is no relation between the “tie” of a game and the “tie” that one wears.
The third type of words are those which have many different meanings with some relation between them. These are analogous words. For example, the word ring can be used to refer to the metal used on the fingers or to some kind of arena. The analogy between them is the circular shape they have.
Now, when we speak or write, we use these three types of words, what may cause mistakes and errors of interpretation of what we wanted to say. With the Holy Scriptures the same thing is observed: God used the three types of words, what may cause errors of interpretation.
Take for instance the word brother. If the word brother is to be taken as univocal – meaning the children of the same couple – then, when it reads that the brothers of Jesus went to meet him, it will be concluded that Our Lady had had many children, and that, therefore, did not remain virgin. And this is the interpretation followed by the protestant ministers.
Now, these very same ministers, when they talk to their coreligionists, they refer to them as brothers. If they consider that the word brother is univocal, they will be saying that all those who are listening to them are their carnal brothers, and they will be asserting that their parents committed an enormous number of adulteries. The minister would be insulting everyone, calling them sons of adultery. Obviously, this is an absurd.
When the minister calls his coreligionists brothers, he is using the word in the analog sense: he wants to say that all the coreligionists are brothers in the same belief, in this case, in a heretical belief.
Therefore, the term brother is analogous, not univocal. “Brothers of Jesus”, then, does not mean carnal brothers. In biblical language, brother simply means relative. That is why, Abram called Lot his brother (Gn. XIII, 8) when he was, actually, his nephew (Gn. XII, 5). The fact of having univocal, analogous and equivocal terms in the Holy Scriptures might cause false interpretations that may lead even to heresies.
What helps us having the Bible if, not having the means to distinguish the meanings of the words – that vary according to its type – we would not interpret them in conformity to the meaning God wanted to use?
Ways of employing words
There is yet another difficulty arisen from the various senses a word can have, whether it is used in a relative or an absolute way.
Let us take another example: the word hate.
This word usually means to wish evil, that is, the loss of a good. God condemns hate, and Christ ordered us to love our neighbor as ourselves, for love of God. However, Christ said: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother and wife and children and brethren and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (Lk XIV, 26)
This looks like, at a first glance, to be contrary to what God ordered in the forth commandment of the decalogue: “Honour thy father and thy mother, that thou mayst be longlived upon the land which the Lord thy God will give thee.” (Ex. XX, 12)
Obviously, Christ could not have ordered us to hate our parents, nor could He have put the hate to our parents as a condition to become His disciple. Christ used the verb hate in a relative sense, and not in absolute sense. He wanted to say that if there is an opposition between the love for the parents and the love for God, we ought to prefer the service of God to the point of abandoning them, if it is necessary, in order to serve God, practicing an act of relative hate toward the parents. Between the absolute love, which we should have only to God, and the relative love for the parents, we should, if it is necessary to choose, to prefer the love of God.
Figures of speech
The Holy Scripture, like any other kind of text, uses style figures proper of the human language, such as metaphors, comparisons, hyperboles, synecdoche, etc.
Often, it is impossible, therefore, to take the words in its proper meaning. One should understand them figuratively, according to the type of figure of speech used.
So, when Christ calls Herod “that fox” (Lk XIII, 32) it would be an absurd to understand the term literally and not metaphorically. When He calls the Pharisees of belonging to the their “father the devil” (Jo. VIII, 44), although the demon cannot actually have children in a strict sense – for he does not have a body or capacity of generating children – he can have “children” in an analogous way. Therefore, the expression “you are of your father the devil” applied to the Pharisees is not properly a metaphor, but another kind of analogy.
The Holy Scripture contains books of many different literary genres. There are historical books, prophetical books, hymns, books of prayer, legal or juridical texts, and sapiential books. According to the literary genre employed, there is a different way of understanding the words. What is told in a historical book are facts that really happened. The images employed in the prophecies are symbolical figures of future facts that have not happened yet. Likewise, the animals of Daniel's prophecy are symbols of the kingdoms that were to come, and the Bible itself explains so (Dan. VII, 17).
It is important to comprehend that words may have shades of meaning according to the time when the book was written. Today, the word “formidable” means something of great value, excellent, as when someone says: “This book is formidable”. However, the word formidable, originally, meant “something that scares”. This meaning disappeared in our days. For this reason, one should know the meaning and the historical context of a text.
Each author employs the words according to the meaning they had by the time he wrote the book. So, it is necessary to know the historical context in which the author of a sacred book lived.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, in order to teach the people, frequently employed parables, which are short fictitious stories containing doctrinaire, mystic, and moral teachings.
The Gospel contains innumerable parables, to the point of Saint Mark saying: “And without parable he did not speak unto them; but apart, he explained all things to his disciples.” (Mk IV, 34).
Why speak in parables? Why did Our Lord so often expressed Himself through parables and did not speak clearly?
The Apostles themselves, once , asked this question to Jesus, who answered them: “Because to you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven: but to them it is not given. For he that hath, to him shall be given, and he shall abound: but he that hath not, from him shall be taken away that also which he hath. Therefore do I speak to them in parables: because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.” (Mt. XIII, 11 –13)
The parable contains a literal teaching easily accessible to simple men, but, without any violation of its primary literal meaning, it can contain other doctrinaire, mystic, or moral teachings.
Meanings of the Holy Scriptures
This leads us to the issue of the meanings of the Holy Scriptures.
Usually, four fundamental meanings are distinguished in the Holy Scriptures:
1- The Literal Meaning;2- The Doctrinaire Meaning;3- The Moral Meaning;4- The Mystic Meaning.
The literal meaning is the fundamental one, and inside it, without violating or forcing the text, the other three meanings can be found.
Hence, the famous verses:
“Littera gessa docet; quid credas, allegoria;
Moralis, quid agas; quo tendas, anagogia”
(The letter teaches the facts; what you should believe, the allegory;
What you should do, the moral; what you should tend to, the anagogy)
Literal meaning is the one expressed in a true, real, actual, immediate way, and desired by the author of the Holy text. This is the meaning which originates directly from the text, without any dilation, or extension, of the meaning of the words beyond the normal; it is the current meaning, and not a syllogistical deduction; immediate, and not by analogy or symbols .
The literal meaning, itself, can have many diverse senses. For example, in the prophecy of Caiaphas, when he said: “it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people” (Jo. XI, 50), the sequence of the Gospel itself explains that Caiaphas prophesied by saying so , although he actually meant another thing (cfr. Jo. XI, 51).
Besides that, one can deduce legitimately a derived meaning from the literal one: it is the consequential or derivative meaning, which is the one that originate legitimately from the genuine literal meaning.
That is what Saint Paul does when quoting a sentence from Jeremiah “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, and let not the strong man glory in his strength, and let not the rich man glory in his riches” (Jer IX, 23). Saint Paul says: “He that glorieth may glory in the Lord” (I Co. I, 31).
From the literal meaning one can still make an accommodation, whether extensive or allusive. By accommodation, the words in the Holy Scripture are applied analogically to another subject or to a different thing from that in which it was originally applied in the Biblical Text, or yet, making allusion to words used in the Holy Scripture in another context.
Extensive accommodation is what was done using the text from the Ecclesiasticus: “Noe was found perfect, just, and in the time of wrath he was made a reconciliation.” (Ecc. XLIV, 17), applying what was said about Noe to other saint characters.
Allusive accommodation was what Our Lord Jesus Christ applied when using the words of Psalm VI, 9, “Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity: for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping”; in the Sermon of the Mount: “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.” (Mt. VII, 23)
The literal meaning includes the proper meaning and the figurative meaning.
When the Bible mentions the arm of God, it does not mean that God has, in fact, , an arm. It is a figurative way of saying that God has power. This figurative meaning is always based in the literal meaning, but it should not be understood in its proper meaning.
The typical meaning is included in the literal meaning.
It is called typical because it uses a “type” (a person, an animal, a thing or an occurred fact) as an image or figure of another type, which would be the antitype.
The type leads to the spiritual meaning, that is, to the antitype.
Some examples of type and antitype are Isaac and Christ, the sacrifice of Abraham and the sacrifice in the Mount Calvary, the sleep of Adam and the death of Christ, and many others.
The typical meaning differs from the accommodative meaning, because it is really expressed. It differs from the consequence, because it is currently expressed, and not deduced. It differs from the literal one, because it is not immediately expressed.
The typical meaning is called allegoric, or doctrinaire, when it expresses a truth that must be believed.
It is named moral meaning, when it expresses what one should do.
Finally, it is named mystic meaning, when it expresses something we should love and trend to.
Likewise, Jerusalem, the holy city of the Jews, allegorically, means the Catholic Church; morally, it means heaven, the expected good, that can only be achieved by the practice of the commandments; and, mystically, it represents the soul.
In conclusion, when we take it all into account, it gets crystal clear how difficult it is to interpret the Bible correctly, and that the free-exam of the Holy Scriptures produces a big chaos.
That is why Saint Peter prevents in his second Epistle “that no prophecy of scripture is made by private interpretation” (II Pe. I, 20)
Hence, it becomes clear why it is necessary to men that God give someone the “keys” to interpret the Bible. It was Peter who received these keys when Christ himself told him: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.” (Mt. XVI, 17-19)
Therefore, only the Pope can give the most correct and unquestionable interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, making the believers obliged to hear it and observe it kindly.
It is now clearly understandable what the Proverbs said:
“As if a thorn should grow in the hand of a drunkard: so is a parable in the mouth of fools.” (Prov. XXVI, 9).